Objectives: To study physiological, therapeutic and adverse effects of sauna bathing with special reference to chronic diseases, medication and special situations (pregnancy, children).
Study design: A literature review.
Methods: Experiments of sauna bathing were accepted if they were conducted in a heated room with sufficient heat (80 to 90 degrees C), comfortable air humidity and adequate ventilation. The sauna exposure for five to 20 minutes was usually repeated one to three times. The experiments were either acute (one day), or conducted over a longer period (several months).
Results: The research data retrieved were most often based on uncontrolled research designs with subjects accustomed to bathing since childhood. Sauna was well tolerated and posed no health risks to healthy people from childhood to old age. Baths did not appear to be particularly risky to patients with hypertension, coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure, when they were medicated and in a stable condition. Excepting toxemia cases, no adverse effects of bathing during pregnancy were found, and baths were not teratogenic. In musculoskeletal disorders, baths may relieve pain. Medication in general was of no concern during a bath, apart from antihypertensive medication, which may predispose to orthostatic hypotension after bathing.
Conclusions: Further research is needed with sound experimental design, and with subjects not accustomed to sauna, before sauna bathing can routinely be used as a non-pharmacological treatment regimen in certain medical disorders to relieve symptoms and improve wellness.