Heat stroke is also known as sun stroke and is considered a medical emergency because it can lead to serious organ damage and death if not managed promptly. You can get a heat stroke when your body overheats due to prolonged exposure and physical activity in very high temperatures. Heat stroke occurs when your body temperature rises to 40°C or more, accompanied by dehydration and other neurological symptoms.
There are two forms of heat stoke – exertional and nonexertional. Exertional heat stroke is the type of heat stoke that comes as a result of doing strenuous or intense physical activities like exercise, sports, or training under hot weather. It is tends to affect people who were previously not used to doing such activities in hot and humid weather. Nonexertional heat stroke (or classic heat stroke) on the other hand, is brought about by being in a hot environment for very long period of time. This prolonged exposure to hot and humid weather causes the body core temperature to rise leading to heat stroke. People who are elderly (above 50 years) or have other chronic diseases are most at risk of this type of heat stroke.
Other forms of heat injury that can occur when you are exposed to very high temperatures for a long time include heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat syncope (fainting). Heat stoke is actually considered as the most severe form of heat injury and that is why it most be prevented as much as possible or treated quickly if it occurs. In this article, you will be learning some of the best ways you can prevent heat stroke and the treatment approach to take when it happens.
But before then, let’s talk about some of the risk factors and symptoms associated with heat stroke.
Causes and Risk Factors
Prolonged exposure to hot weather and physical activity under very high temperatures will put you at great risk of getting a heat stroke. Military training and participating in sports, such as football or long-distance running events, in hot weather are among the situations that can lead to heatstroke. Other things that can increase the risk of developing a heat stroke may include :
- Age : Young children and elderly adults (above 50 years) are most at risk of getting heat stroke. This is because the central nervous system in young children is not yet fully developed and that of elderly adults are already deteriorating. In addition, both age groups have difficulty remaining hydrated so their body system finds it difficult to cope with extreme temperatures.
- Dehydration : Your body needs to be hydrated properly to cool itself during hot weathers. Otherwise, your body system can overheat due to extreme temperatures. Insufficient fluid intake puts you at risk of dehydration.
- Previous history : Having a history of previous heatstroke is a risk factor. If you’ve suffered a heat stroke in the past, then you are most likely going to suffer another one if you expose yourself to extreme hot temperatures.
- Obesity : People who are obese or overweight have higher risk of heat stroke. The reason is that extra layers of fat in the body tends to retain more heat.
- Electrolyte imbalance : This can occur when you have an illness that causes excessive vomiting or diarrhea. You tend to loose water, sodium, potassium and magnesium when this happens putting you at risk of heat stroke.
- Having other health conditions : There are certain chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart diseases and lung diseases that might increase your risk of heatstroke.
- Some medications : Certain medications like vasoconstrictors, beta blockers, diuretics, antidepressants and antipsychotics may predispose your body to lose water and reduce the body’s ability to cope with heat. Avoid working under hot weather for prolonged hours when taking any of these.
- Alcohol : Drinking alcohol, caffeine and other energy drinks increases dehydration. Hence, your chances of suffering a heat stroke during hot weather is higher.
- Stimulants : Stimulants used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and illegal stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine also make you more vulnerable to heatstroke.
- Congenital defect : Some people may be born with impaired sweat gland function. Such people’s body system can’t regulate the body’s core temperature properly. The body can over heat and they may suffer a heat stroke.
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
The onset of the signs and symptoms of heat stroke may be gradual or sudden. They may include :
- high body temperature,
- the absence of sweating, with hot red or flushed dry skin,
- rapid pulse,
- difficulty breathing,
- strange behavior,
- muscle cramps and aches.
Complications may include seizures, rhabdomyolysis,kidney failure,coma or even death. If you are under hot weather and then begin to have any of these signs and symptoms, get out of the sun and find a means to cool yourself. And if you are standing close to someone who’s showing these symptoms under hot weather, do likewise for the person. In addition, find the means to call for medical attention quickly.
Best Ways To Prevent Heat Stroke
You can take the following steps to prevent heatstroke during hot weather:
- Avoid standing or doing strenuous activities under the sun for prolonged hours.
- Keep young children and elderly ones away from prolonged exposure of the sun or from engaging in sporting activities under hot weather.
- Ensure you drink plenty of fluids during hot weather not only when you feel thirsty. Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in hot weather to allow your body to cool properly.
- Protect yourself outdoors with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. You can also apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or sweating.
- Stay away from drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine because they will make you lose more water and this can cause your body to over heat.
- Look out for warning signs and symptoms of heat stroke if you are currently on any medication that affects your body’s ability to maintain hydration or cope with heat. Call for medical attention when you do.
- Do not park your car and leave your children inside especially under the sun. This is a common cause of heat injury in children. When you want to enter your car after parking it for a long time under hot weather, open the doors and wait a while for the heat to dissipate before sitting down
- Try to schedule exercise or physical labor for cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or evening.
- When you travel to a place which is hotter than where you come from, take some time to get acclimated. Allow your body to get used to the weather before engaging in strenuous activities or exercises.
- Make sure that your rooms are well ventilated in hot weather or use air conditioning. In addition, avoid over crowded situations which can generated hotter temperatures like rallies, protests e.t.c if you know you have any of the risk factors for heat stroke.
- Always ensure that there are medical services available for emergencies when organizing sporting events or activities that predispose both children and adults to prolonged exposure to hot weather.
Treatment of Heat Stroke
Anyone who suffers a heat stroke may require some first aid before medical help arrive. The first thing needed is for you to call medical emergency or transport the person to the hospital if you have the means. You may need to get the person out of the sun into a shade or a room with a cooling system like fan or air conditioning whiles waiting for medical help to arrive. If there is no room available, just try fanning air over the person. In addition, try to bring down the person’s temperature by removing the heavy clothing he/she may be wearing and immerse the person in cold water or shower if available. Otherwise, you could use a towel to wet the persons body with cold water. Applying ice packs to the person’s armpits, groin, neck, and back may also be very helpful in cooling down the body temperature.
Treatment of heatstroke at the hospital also focuses on cooling your body to a normal temperature to prevent or reduce damage to your brain and vital organs. The doctors will immerse you in cold water because a bath of cold or ice water has been proved to be the most effective way of quickly lowering your core body temperature. The quicker you can receive cold water immersion, the less risk of death and organ damage.
They may also use evaporation cooling techniques if cold water immersion is unavailable. This involves cool water misted on your body while warm air is fanned over you and this causes the water to evaporate and cool your skin. Another method they can use to cool your body is to wrap you in a special cooling blanket and apply ice packs to your groin, neck, back and armpits to lower your temperature.
You will also be given medications that will stop your shivering because shivering increases your body temperature and makes treatment less effective. You may also be given muscle relaxants like benzodiazepines to help your body relax. Fluid and electrolyte replacement (via oral or intravenous delivery) will be done and sedatives will be given to control seizures if they occur.
- Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor
- Wikipedia – heat stroke
- Mayoclinic – heat stroke symptoms and causes
- WebMD – heat stroke symptoms and treatment