Heat stroke occurs when the body is exposed to excessive heat, causing in the body's temperature to climb above 41oC within a few minutes. Heat stroke is the result of the body's inability to control its heat-regulating mechanisms. Without immediate medical attention, irreversible brain damage and death are likely.
Heat stroke is often preceded by heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is characterized by nausea, dizziness and a feeling of fatigue. Anyone with these symptoms should be brought to a cool area where their clothes can be loosened and wet. It is also important that they take small sips of water. These measures should help victims of heat exhaustion recover fully and resume their normal activities within a day. However, if a person's condition worsens, medical attention is required.
When the ambient temperature is extremely high, heat stroke can occur even while at rest. It can also develop when participating in strenuous physical activity. Children, the elderly, the obese and persons who sweat very little or not at all, are at a greater risk. Additionally, certain risk factors predispose individuals to heat stroke. These include dehydration, alcohol consumption, cardiovascular and kidney disease and certain medications (ex: diuretics, antihistamines and some antidepressants). Ask your pharmacist if you are taking medications that put you at risk from suffering of a heat stroke.
Signs and Symptoms
Since heat stroke is a medical emergency, it is very important to recognize the most common signs and symptoms:
- Fever in excess of 40oC
- Absence of sweating
- Irritability, confusion or loss of consciousness
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Hot, red, dry skin
Heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
- Call emergency services immediately
- Get the victim to a cool, shady area
- Remove the victim's clothing
- Apply wet compresses to the skin
- Cool the victim down by vigorously directing air on them (using an electric fan if possible)
- If the person is conscious, suggest that they drink some water
When carrying out these on-going measures, it is important to take the person's body temperature every 10 minutes. If their body temperature reaches 38oC, dry them off. If it begins to climb back up, repeat the cooling process. If the victim vomits, it is important to turn them onto their side to prevent them from choking on their secretions.
Prolonged exposure to the sun and heat should be avoided. Remaining hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids is also important. Drinking alcohol or taking diuretics, which increase urine output (ex: caffeine, guarana), should be avoided before any serious workout or intense physical exertion. When training or performing sports, drinking plenty of fluids is very important (make sure that what you are drinking does not contain any diuretics).