Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke)

"I will have nought to do with a man who can blow hot and cold with the same breath" - Aesop (620 BC - 560 BC), The Man and the Satyr

Hyperthermia (too much internal body heat) is the opposite of Hypothermia. The early stage is more commonly called Heat Exhaustion (up to 104°F), the advanced, life threatening, stage is Heat Stroke (105°F and above). Heat Stroke can permanently damage the brain and internal organs.

Under normal conditions the body can sweat away and radiate away the heat we produce inside. When the air temperature is higher than your body temperature (98.6 degrees) heat radiation is greatly impacted. You can also be affected by lower air temperature if you're exercising or exerting yourself vigorously and generating heat faster than the body can shed it. Both high humidity and dehydration can reduce the ability to sweat effectively. (Hence the importance of drinking fluids.) Antihistamines and certain types of medication for high blood pressure or depression can increase the risk of over heating. Tea, coffee, soda and alcohol can lead to dehydration and should be avoided when heat illness is likely.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

  • hot, DRY skin that is flushed but NOT sweaty
  • a high body temperature
  • rapid heart beat (flutter)
  • headache or dizziness
  • disorientation, agitation or confusion
  • hallucinations
  • sluggishness or fatigue
  • seizure
  • loss of consciousness or coma
  • death

Note: some individuals can develop symptoms of heat stroke suddenly and rapidly without warning. Symptoms may differ per individual.

The symptoms for Heat Exhaustion are quite similar to Heat Stroke with one vital exception: with Heat Exhaustion the body is sweating profusely. If sweating stops, it's Heat Stroke - seek medical care immediately. If a person with Heat Exhaustion is unable to drink or vomiting back the fluids, call for medical help.

How to treat Heat Stroke
Heat stroke can cause permanent damage or death. Call 911 and apply these first aid measures while waiting for help to arrive:

  • Get the person indoors
  • Have the person lie down in a cool area with their feet slightly elevated (to prevent shock)
  • Remove clothing and gently apply cool water to the skin followed by fanning to stimulate sweating. Do NOT use an alcohol rub.
  • Apply ice packs to the groin and armpits
  • If the person is able to drink without vomiting or choking, give cool fluids such as water or sports drinks (but not anything caffeinated)

Intravenous fluids are often necessary to compensate for fluid or electrolyte loss. Bed rest is generally advised and body temperature may fluctuate abnormally for weeks after heat stroke.

Bottom Line

Take precautions when exposed to prolonged hot and/or humid conditions.

  1. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic, fluids
  2. Wear loose, lightly-colored clothing
  3. Wear a hat or use an umbrella
  4. Take frequent breaks to cool down and drink
  5. Mist yourself with a water spray or wear a wet hat or wet shirt
  6. If sweating heavily you'll want to refresh your electrolytes (such as sodium). Eat a cracker or consume a sports drink
  7. Have a shelter you can retreat to for shade

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