Getting To Grips With Heat Stroke

Summer is upon us, and it has been bad. With temperatures soaring up to over 40 degrees, it is hard to get through the day without having the air conditioning unit on or having the ceiling fan on at full speed. For those of us who venture out into the sun, it is important to take certain precautions.

Heat stroke is a worrying problem that can affect those of us who brave the heat. Here, we take a look at this problem and how you can prevent it.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a condition where the body's temperature regulation system fails to maintain normal body temperature in the sweltering heat.

It is a serious condition that requires emergency management in hospital. It usually affects people over the age of 50 yrs, but we have seen even younger individuals affected these days.

What happens in heat stroke?

The normal body temperature is 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or around 37 degrees Celsius. This temperature is maintained through a complex system called the thermoregulatory system in the brain.

When exposed to extreme heat, dehydration that accompanies the heat can make this system fail to regulate body temperature. As a consequence, the body overheats to a temperature of over 105 degrees F, leading to the shutting down of brain function and collapse. This is called heat stroke.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptom can be fainting. However, some people experience other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headache (throbbing), hot skin, dizziness, light headedness and occasionally a fast (or slow) heartbeat.

Advanced or complicated cases may present with seizures or coma, and some cases may demonstrate behavioural changes and confusion.

Who is at risk?

Heat stroke is common in a certain group of individuals. The most susceptible individuals include infants, elderly people (especially those who have heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or kidney disease), individuals who work out in the sun, children left unattended in cars and athletes.

Heat stroke is either exertional (in those who exercise or work in the heat), or non-exertional (seen in infants or in those with an underlying medical illness).

How is a heat stroke victim treated?

Heat stroke is an emergency condition that requires immediate hospitalisation and treatment.

The first step in treating a person with heat stroke is to cool them down.

Get the victim to a shady area first. Remove clothing and apply cool water or begin tepid sponging if possible. Fan the victim if possible, and place ice packs under the armpits and in the groin.

Offer the victim a cool beverage, ideally water or any juice available immediately. Do not give them drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine. Make sure you monitor the temperature of the affected individual using a thermometer, and continue cooling till the temperature reduces to around 100-101 degrees Fahrenheit.

Call an ambulance and arrange for the patient to be transferred immediately as a matter of urgency. Preventing heat stroke Avoid dehydration by drinking a good amount of water regularly.

If you have to participate in sports, then make sure you have water or your favourite sports drink at hand at all times.

Replenish electrolytes by using sports drinks if you sweat excessively in the heat. ORS is a good rehydration solution. Wear light colored, loose fitting clothes whenever possible.

Simple steps can prevent this fatal condition.

by Dr Vivek Baliga


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