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Heatstroke: Causes, symptoms and treatment

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when your body is unable to handle heat. Know all about this condition and how to prevent heatstroke.

Have you ever felt dizzy, nauseous, or excessively sweaty during a hot day? Has the heat made you feel so hot that you feel confused or weak? These are some alarming symptoms of heat stroke, where your body temperature can soar to dangerous levels above 104°F (40°C). Heat stroke is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when your body overheats, usually due to prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. Recognising the warning signs—such as a throbbing headache, rapid heartbeat, and a changed mental state—is crucial. Here’s how you can prevent and respond to heatstroke, especially during the sweltering summer season.

What causes heat stroke?

It is usually caused by prolonged exposure to very high temperature or physical exertion in hot weather. It may affect the way your body regulates the core temperature through sweating, and evaporative cooling. The condition occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to 104°F (40°C) or higher. As the condition worsens, the heart may struggle to pump enough blood to meet the cooling needs of the body. As a result, the rising temperature may cause damage to the cells, leading to the failure of multiple organs. It is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate medical care.

Risk factors of heat stroke

While anyone can have a heat stroke, some people are more susceptible to or at risk of it.

1. Exposure to hot weather: When exposed to elevated temperatures and humid weather, your sweat cannot evaporate as easily, diminishing the body’s ability to cool itself. If you are not used to hot weather and have recently moved to a place where the temperature is high, you are also prone to heat stroke.
2. Age: Infants, young children, and the elderly are more vulnerable to heat stroke as their bodies are less efficient at regulating its temperature or maintain hydration levels.
3. Dehydration: Insufficient fluid intake or dehydration reduces the body’s ability to produce sweat, which is essential to cool down your body and regulate temperature.

Thirsty woman
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of heatstroke. Image courtesy: Freepik

4. Chronic Illnesses: Conditions such as heart disease, respiratory conditions, and diabetes can impair the body’s ability to cope with heat. Obesity can also make it difficult for your body to cool down.
5. Medications: Certain drugs, including diuretics, antihistamines, beta-blockers, and antipsychotics, can affect the heat response of your body by limiting sweating and causing dehydration.
6. Lack of air conditioning: If you spend a lot of time without cooling mechanisms like air conditioning, fans, or cool water, especially during heat waves, you may experience a heat stroke.
7. Alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol can make it hard to regulate body temperature and maintain fluid balance during the summer season. This can result in heat cramps or heat stroke.
8. Physical activity: Strenuous activity in hot weather increases heat production within the body, which can overwhelm its cooling mechanisms.

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Symptoms of heat stroke

It is a severe heat-related illness that occurs when the body overheats and cannot cool down, potentially leading to organ damage and life-threatening complications. Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • High body temperature (104°F or higher)
  • Confusion or irritability
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Hot, dry skin or heavy sweating
  • Rapid pulse and heart rate
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Throbbing headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Coma

If you notice anyone experiencing these symptoms, monitor body temperature and seek medical care if you notice any problem.

Symptoms of heat stroke in kids

This condition is not exclusive to adults, it can also affect kids. Symptoms of heat stroke in kids include:

  • High body temperature
  • Hot and dry skin
  • Sweating
  • Rapid pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or irritability
  • Fainting

Immediate medical attention is crucial if a child shows these signs and symptoms of heat stroke.

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Heat exhaustion vs heat stroke: Is there a difference?

Whole both these problems are heat-related illnesses, they are different and trigger different symptoms.

Heat exhaustion

This is a mild condition caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures and inadequate fluid intake. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, weakness, cold, pale, and clammy skin, fainting, dizziness, nausea, headache, and rapid, weak pulse.

how to deal with heat exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is different from heat stroke. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Heat stroke

This is a severe, life-threatening condition that occurs when your body fails to regulate its temperature. It causes your body temperature to rise above 104°F (40°C). Heat stroke symptoms include high body temperature, changes in behaviour, hot or dry skin, sweating, rapid and strong pulse, throbbing headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion, seizures, and unconsciousness i(n some cases).

While immediate medical attention is crucial for heat stroke, heat exhaustion can be controlled with some cooling down exercises and keeping yourself hydrated.

Diagnosis of heat stroke

It involves assessing symptoms and measuring core body temperature, typically above 104°F (40°C). Doctors may perform blood tests to check for electrolyte imbalances, kidney function, and muscle damage. Urinalysis can indicate dehydration and kidney function, while imaging tests such as chest X-rays or CT scans can help understand the cause of symptoms. Immediate diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent severe complications and organ damage.

How to treat heat stroke?

While it needs immediate medical intervention, to provide first aid, you may follow these tips to manage heat stroke:

  • First, make sure you call the emergency services immediately, as heat stroke is a medical emergency.
  • Move the person to a shaded, air-conditioned, or cooler environment.
  • Remove excess clothes to help cool the body.
  • Give the person into a cold bath or shower.
  • Apply ice packs to the neck, groin, and armpits.
  • If the person is conscious and able to swallow, give cold water only.
  • Stay with the person until help arrives, while monitoring their condition and  perform CPR if necessary.

How to prevent heat stroke?

1. Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks that can dehydrate you, such as alcohol and caffeinated beverages. During intense activity in hot weather, consume sports drinks to replace electrolytes.

2. Wear appropriate clothing

During heatwaves, wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-coloured clothing that allows your skin to breathe and sweat to evaporate. Wearing a hat and sunglasses can also help protect against direct sunlight.

3. Plan your outings according to the weather

If you have to go out for something, watch for the weather forecast and heat in your area. Schedule strenuous activities during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. Avoid intense exercise during peak hours, typically from 12 PM to 4 PM.

4. Use fans and air conditioning

While staying indoors is one of the easiest ways to prevent heat stroke, trying to stay cool under a fan, cooler or air conditioner may be better. You could also try taking a cool shower or visit public places with air conditioning. Remember that spending limited time in air conditioning may be better for your health.

air conditioning
Stay in a cool environment to reduce the risk of body temperature. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

5. Take frequent breaks

Rest often in shady or air-conditioned areas, when you are out, to allow your body to cool down. This will help reduce the risk of elevated body temperature, which may cause heat stroke. Taking breaks is especially important during vigorous physical activities.

6. Eat light meals

Consuming heavy, hot, or high-protein meals can increase heat production in your body. So, eat smaller and lighter meals to minimise internal heat generation, his will help you avoid heat stroke or other heat-related illnesses, .

7. Avoid alcohol and caffeine

These substances can lead to dehydration by increasing urine output. To keep your body hydrated, stick to water and electrolyte-replenishing beverages during hot weather.

By following these preventive tips, you can reduce your risk of getting a heat stroke!

#Heatstroke #symptoms #treatment

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