In this article we will look at:
- What is heat stroke?
- How does heat stroke occur?
- Who is prone to heat stroke?
- What are the causes of heat stroke?
- What are the symptoms of heat stroke?
- How is heat stroke diagnosed?
- What are the complications of heat stroke?
- How to prevent heatstroke?
- What is the treatment for heat stroke?
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What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke or sunstroke occurs due to sudden overheating of the body as a result of exposure to very high temperatures, or due to prolonged physical exertion at very high temperatures. This is a very common occurrence in India during the summertime.
Please Note: Heat stroke requires emergency treatment. The condition can become extremely severe if treatment is delayed and can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. It can even result in death.
How does heat stroke occur?
Considered to be a medical emergency, heat stroke is the most severe form of heat injury which can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The complications can become severe if treatment is delayed. Heat stroke occurs when the body is exposed to extremely high temperatures and the core body temperature increases to 104 °F (40 °C) and above. Dehydration immediately occurs, followed by other symptoms such as exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, headache, disorientation, confusion, loss of consciousness and sometimes even coma.
Who is prone to heat stroke?
Those who are most at risk of heat stroke include:
the elderly (especially those who suffer from heart diseases, lung diseases, kidney diseases, or who are taking medications that make them vulnerable to dehydration and heat strokes)
individuals who work outside and physically exert themselves under the sun
infants, children, or pets left in locked cars
What are the causes of heat stroke?
The main causes of heat stroke are:
exposure to an extremely hot environment
performing physically strenuous activities under the sun
being left in locked cars in extremely hot conditions
Heat stroke can also be accelerated if :
you wear excessive clothing in hot weather which prevents the sweat from evaporating
if you drink excessive alcohol in the heat
if you are dehydrated as you are not drinking enough water
What are the symptoms of heat stroke? How is heat stroke diagnosed?
The signs of heat stroke include:
extremely high body temperature.
mental delirium, seizures, confusion, irritability or altered mental state and behaviour
nausea and vomiting
flushed red skin
heavy and rapid breathing
high pulse rate as your heart suddenly beats faster to cool down your body.
a severe headache
Any general practitioner can easily diagnose heat stroke by asking you about your symptoms. He will take check your body temperature and may also take your rectal temperature. Based on the severity of your condition he may ask you to undergo:
A urine test to check if there is any damage to the kidney due to heat stroke complications and also to check the colour of your urine
A blood test to check your sodium and potassium levels.
ECG is performed to see the activity of the heart
A chest x-ray may be prescribed to check for aspiration of fluids and lung oedema etc.
MRI and CT scan may also be advised to detect any damages in the large organs of the body.
What are the complications of heat stroke?
Depending on how long the body temperature has been high, heat stroke can give rise to serious complications such as:
serious organ damage
How to prevent heatstroke?
For heat stroke prevention follow these simple steps:
Apply sunscreen liberally before you venture out. use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Do not forget to cover your head maybe with a scarf or a hat and wear eyeglasses to protect your eyes.
Wear comfortable loose clothing.
Keep yourself hydrated. Drink plenty of water and fruit juices.
Do not leave your children or pets locked in a parked car. This has caused many deaths of both children and pets. When parked directly under the sun the temperature in the car can escalate upto 20 °F (more than 6.7 °C) in 10 minutes.
Avoid any form of strenuous physical activity as much as possible in the direct heat. Even if it is necessary, make sure medical services are readily available, or you have the medical emergency numbers handy.
Avoid going out when the sun is at its highest (noon times) because then the temperature is at the maximum. Venture out in late evenings or early mornings.
What is the treatment for heat stroke?
Depending on your condition the doctor may prescribe medicines to control your shivering and fits. If there are any complications such as respiratory distress, brain disorder, or kidney or liver damage then the conditions are managed according to the severity and symptoms.
You may be taken to a cool room with air conditioning or you may even be dipped in cool water if the doctor thinks it is necessary. Again if you have suffered from moderate dehydration, you may be administered intravenous fluids.
Ice packs may be applied to your neck, armpits, and groins to cool down your body.
The cooling is stopped once the body temperature is < 38.5ºC, to avoid overcooling.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Heat stroke is a medical emergency
Heat stroke requires emergency treatment. The condition can become extremely severe if treatment is delayed and can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. It can even result in death if not promptly and properly treated.
Prevention is better than cure
To prevent heat stroke, prevent dehydration, drink plenty of water and avoid all forms of vigoroud activities in hot and humid weather.
Do NOT leave Infants and pets in closed cars in hot weather
Leaving infants and animals in locked cars in hot weather can cause heat stroke and death. In fact, even in moderate weather the temperature within a closed car can reach dangerous levels. The best thing to do would be to never leave your infants and pets in closed cars at any time.
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