A heat stroke is a very serious condition that results in blackouts and severe dehydration. It is caused by elevated body temperatures, generally due to excessive heat. It is a true medical emergency, leading to loss of minerals and vital body fluids.
A heat stroke is a type of hyperthermia, which is characterized by an abnormally raised body temperature, accompanied by some physical and neurological symptoms. It is also termed as sunstroke, siriasis, or thermic fever. It results from a failure of the body’s mechanism to control its temperature. Normally, the body generates heat from metabolism, and dissipates it either by radiation through the skin or by evaporation of sweat. However, in certain conditions, such as high humidity, extreme heat, or vigorous exertion under the sun, the body is not able to dissipate the heat.
There are two forms―exertional heat stroke (EHS) and classic nonexertional heat stroke (NEHS). EHS is usually seen in young people who perform strenuous physical activities in a hot environment for a prolonged duration. NEHS affects very young individuals, sedentary elderly individuals, and people with chronic illnesses. Classic NEHS is more common in areas which have not experienced environmental heat waves since a long time.
Exercising or working in excessively hot conditions without having enough fluids is the major cause of a heat stroke. It can happen if you don’t replace lost fluids over days or weeks, or if you don’t drink plenty of liquids before exercising strenuously on a hot day. Liquids cool down our body by allowing it to produce sweat. Dehydration is another major cause of this problem. A dehydrated person doesn’t sweat rapidly, due to which, the heat is not dissipated in a proper way. It results in an elevated body temperature. Infants, elderly people with a lung disease, heart disease, or kidney disease, outdoor workers, and athletes, are more susceptible to a heat stroke. Others who are more prone are people with alcoholism, obesity, older age, chronic illnesses, uncontrolled diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and those using certain medications such as antihistamines and diuretics.
The symptoms are widely variable, the most common of them being vomiting, nausea, fatigue, headache, dizziness, muscle cramps or muscle pain, and dry, red skin. There may be confusion, strange behavior, high body temperature, rapid pulse, difficulty in breathing, hallucinations, agitation, seizure and disorientation. A person may even lose consciousness. Sweating is stopped due to the failure in the body’s heat control system.
High core temperature can also damage the internal organs, particularly the brain. Due to loss of fluids, blood pressure may be lowered. Most people die by a heat stroke due to circulatory failure. People who survive are quite likely to develop permanent brain damage. If left untreated, it can lead to irreversible brain damage, coma, and even death.
Shift the sufferer to the shady area or indoors. Let him/her lie down with the feet raised. Remove his clothing and apply cool water on the skin. Fan the person, which enhances sweating and evaporation. Place ice packs under the armpits and groin area. Monitor the body temperature using a thermometer, and continue the cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to normal. Immediately contact emergency medical services for further treatment.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.