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Heat Stroke | Symptoms | Causes | Complications | Prevention | Risk Factors


What is Heat Stroke? Is Heat Stroke Serious?

Heatstroke is definitely a severe condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to 104°F (40°C) or higher. It results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures or strenuous physical activity in hot environments. Heatstroke is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.

When the body is exposed to high temperatures, it tries to cool itself down through sweating and by radiating heat. However, in cases of prolonged exposure or intense physical exertion, these cooling mechanisms can become overwhelmed, leading to a rapid increase in body temperature.

Heatstroke may result in causing significant damage to various organs in the body, including the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. The longer the condition remains untreated, the greater the risk of complications and potentially life-threatening outcomes. Some of the difficulties associated with untreated heatstroke include brain damage, heart problems (such as abnormal heart rhythms or heart attacks), kidney failure, and muscle breakdown.

What are the Common Signs & Symptoms of Heat Stroke?

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heatstroke is crucial for prompt medical intervention. Common symptoms include a high body temperature, altered mental state or behavior (such as confusion, agitation, or irritability), nausea, vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart rate, headache, and even loss of consciousness.

  • High body temperature.  Elevated body temperature serves as a crucial indicator of heatstroke. Heatstroke is primarily identified by a core body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, which is typically measured using a rectal thermometer.
  • Altered Cognitive Functions(Behaviour or Mental State): Heatstroke can display a wide range of neurological symptoms, including confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures, and even coma. These cognitive and behavioral changes are potential consequences of the severe overheating that occurs in heatstroke.
  • Altered Sweating Pattern:  In cases of heatstroke triggered by hot weather, the skin typically feels hot and dry to the touch. Conversely, when heatstroke is caused by intense physical exertion, the skin may feel either dry or slightly moist. The difference in skin condition can be observed depending on the underlying cause of heatstroke.
  • Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
  • Flushed skin. Change in color of skint to red with an increase in body temperature.
  • Rapid breathing. Increasing Rate of Breathing and Causing Shallow Breathing
  • Elevated Heart Rate. Your Heart rate may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
  • Headache. Your head may throb.

What are the Causes of Heat Stroke?

Heatstroke Primarily can occur through two main mechanisms:

  • Exposure to a hot environment and strenuous activity. The first type, known as non-exertional (classic) heatstroke, typically arises when individuals are exposed to hot and humid weather for extended periods. It is more commonly observed in older adults and individuals with chronic illnesses.
  • On the other hand, exertional heatstroke is triggered by intense physical exertion in hot weather. While anyone engaging in vigorous exercise or working in high temperatures can be susceptible, it is particularly likely to happen to those unaccustomed to such conditions.

In both types of heatstroke, certain factors can contribute to the development of the condition:

  • Wearing excessive clothing that hampers the evaporation of sweat, impeding the body’s cooling process.
  • Consuming alcohol, as can disrupt the body’s ability to regulate temperature effectively.
  • Becoming dehydrated by failing to consume sufficient water to replenish the fluids lost through sweating. Proper hydration is crucial in maintaining the body’s temperature balance.

What are the Risk Factors which can trigger Heat Stroke?

Anyone can develop heatstroke, but several factors increase your risk:

  • Age: The ability to tolerate extreme heat is influenced by the strength and functionality of the central nervous system. In the case of infants and young children, their central nervous system is still developing, and they may have limited mechanisms to cope with changes in body temperature. As a result, they are more vulnerable to the effects of heat and may face challenges in regulating their body temperature.Similarly, in adults over the age of 65, the central nervous system may start to experience age-related deterioration. This can impact the body’s capacity to effectively respond to temperature changes and maintain thermoregulation. As a consequence, older adults may be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses and find it more difficult to cope with extreme heat.Additionally, both young children and older adults often face difficulties in remaining adequately hydrated. Infants and young children may have limited fluid intake or may be unable to communicate their thirst effectively. Older adults may experience decreased thirst perception or have underlying conditions that affect their fluid balance. Insufficient hydration further increases their vulnerability to heat-related risks.

    Considering these factors, special attention should be given to the very young and older populations during periods of high temperatures to ensure appropriate measures are taken to prevent heat-related complications. This includes providing adequate hydration, creating a cool environment, and monitoring their well-being during hot weather conditions.

  • Exertion in hot weather:  Indeed, military training and engaging in sports activities like football or long-distance running events in hot weather are situations that can predispose individuals to heatstroke. These activities often involve intense physical exertion, which generates heat within the body. When coupled with high temperatures and humidity, the risk of heatstroke significantly increases.
  • Sudden Exposure to Hot Weather. You may be more Prone to heat-related illness or Heat stroke, if you’re exposed to a sudden increase in temperature, such as during an early-summer heat wave or travel to a hotter climate.
  • Limiting activity for a few days to allow yourself to acclimate to the Environmental/Temp change, can reduce the risk, However you may still have a high risk of heatstroke until you’ve experienced several weeks of higher temperatures.
  • A lack of air conditioning. Fans may make you feel better, but during sustained hot weather, air conditioning is the most effective way to cool down and lower humidity.
  • Certain medications: Use of Certain Drugs like Vasoconstrictors, Beta Blockers, impact our Body’s ability to remain hydrated. Be especially careful in hot weather if you take medications that narrow your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulate your blood pressure by blocking adrenaline (beta blockers), rid your body of sodium and water (diuretics), or drugs like antidepressants or antipsychotics.
  • Drugs used as Stimulants, In conditions like ADHD
  • Certain health conditions. Certain chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung disease, might increase your risk of heatstroke. So can being obese, being sedentary, and having a history of previous heatstroke.

How to Prevent Heat Stroke?

  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing to allow for proper cooling.
  • Protect yourself from sunburn with a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids to maintain normal body temperature.
  • Be cautious with medications that may affect hydration and heat dissipation.
  • Never leave anyone, especially children, in a parked car, as it can quickly become dangerously hot.
  • Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day, and take breaks in cool areas.
  • Gradually acclimate to hot weather conditions to reduce the risk of heat-related illness.
  • If you’re at increased risk, take extra precautions and seek immediate medical attention if symptoms arise.
  • Ensure medical services are available during strenuous activities in hot weather.
Source: CDC

Happy Summers


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