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Future Health






Understanding Heat Illnesses

June 20, 2016 

More than 600 people die from natural heat-related deaths in the United States each year. Knowing the difference between the stages of heat illnesses is important for identifying such issues for yourself and your children. Heat illnesses come in the form of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and symptoms and treatment vary for each.

Heat illnesses usually occur when inadequate intake of fluids and/or electrolytes are combined with excessive natural heat, especially during physical activity. When the internal core temperature of the body reaches approximately 105 degrees Fahrenheit, the individual will suffer from varying heat-illness related symptoms.

Identifying these symptoms is the first step in making sure an individual does not suffer permanent danger to his or her organs, or even death.

Heat Cramps

Definition

Heat cramps are uncomfortable, short-lasting seizing of the muscles which may be accompanied by involuntary twitching or movement. Heat cramps usually manifest during vigorous physical activity or during prolonged exposure to a hot environment.

Symptoms

  • Painful
  • Short duration
  • Autonomic (involuntary)
  • On and off muscle spasms

Treatment

  • Drink fluid
  • Consume electrolytes (such as a sports drink)
  • Retire to cool place such as in the shade
  • Symptoms often go away on their own with these measures

Heat Exhaustion

 

Definition

Heat exhaustion is similar to heat cramps but also is accompanied by water depletion and more severe symptoms; therefore quick treatment is even more important. Without immediate attention, heat exhaustion may progress to heat stroke which can be fatal.

Symptoms

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pale skin
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tachycardia (fast heart beat)
  • Muscle cramps

Treatment

  • Immediate removal from the heat
  • Relax in a cool, dry environment
  • Increase water and electrolyte intake
  • Take off excess clothing
  • Cool shower, fans or cool towels
  • If symptoms do not subside, seek medical attention
  • Avoid hot weather for a week following

Heat Stroke

Definition

Most common in people over 50 and athletes, heat stroke is considered the most serious form of heat illness and is the stage following heat exhaustion. This form of heat injury requires immediate medical attention due to its ability to cause permanent damage to various organs in the body, including the brain.

Symptoms

  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Extreme headache
  • Lack of sweating
  • Hot, red and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Fainting

Treatment

  • Immediately call 911
  • While waiting for the response team, move the individual to a cool environment out of the sun and remove excess clothing
  • Fan the patient while wetting his or her skin
  • Use ice packs if possible on areas such as the neck and back
  • Get the individual into a cool body of water