Heatstroke: Help, Support and Overcome
Heatstroke is a type of heat-related illness characterized by dramatic rise in body temperature within a short period. Prolonged exposure to a heat wave combined with dehydration is responsible for this condition. In normal weather conditions, the heat generated in the body, as a part of the metabolism process, escapes through the skin through evaporation of sweat. In extreme heat, the body might fail to dissipate the heat, resulting in dramatic increase in temperature. This condition is usually induced by dehydration, when the body lacks sufficient fluid to enable sweat production. As a result, the rate of heat production is significantly higher than the rate of heat loss, and the body temperature rises.
Heatstroke can affect any person regardless of age, gender and health condition. However, infants, older adults above 65 years of age, and individuals engaged in strenuous physical activities in strong sunlight are most vulnerable to this condition. Certain chronic health problems such as lung diseases or cardiovascular problems can make a person susceptible to heatstroke. Diuretics, certain blood pressure lowering medications, antidepressant and antipsychotics can affect the body’s response to heat and the ability to retain hydration, increasing the risk of heat stroke.
If steps are not taken to bring down the body temperature rapidly, the brain and the other vital organs in the body will swell, causing permanent damage to the organs, which might even result in death.
Help and Support for Heatstroke
Heatstroke is broadly divided into two categories: nonexertional heatstroke and exertional heatstroke. Prolonged exposure to hot and humid environment can push up your body temperature even without any physical activities, leading to heatstroke. Rise in body temperature induced by strenuous physical activities in hot environment causes exertional heatstroke. In either form of heatstroke, various accompanying factors might accelerate heat loss and dehydration. Wearing tight clothes inhibits sweat evaporation, slowing down the normal cooling process of the body. Drinking insufficient fluid or drinking alcohol increases the risk of dehydration in hot weather.
Sudden rise in body temperature to 104 degree Celsius or above, accompanied by lack of perspiration is the main sign of heatstroke. You might experience nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, headache, dizziness, rapid breathing, weakness and muscle cramps. A person affected by heatstroke might become unconscious, and in the worst case, can pass into coma.
Avoiding the sun, drinking sufficient water and fluid, wearing loose fitting and light colored clothes on hot summer days can protect you from heatstroke.
The symptoms are usually sufficient for detecting heatstroke. However, additional diagnostic tests such as a blood test, urine test, muscle function tests and imaging tests might be recommended for assessing complications related to the ailment.
Cooling the body is the main objective of heatstroke treatment. Usually the patient is soaked in cold water or packed with special cooling blankets to lower the body temperature. To prevent the body from shivering, which reduces the effectiveness of the treatment, your doctor might give you benzodiazepine based medications that help the muscles to relax. The treatment will last until your body temperature is normalized. The patient might be kept under observation for a few days. Heatstroke is an emergency condition. It cannot be treated at home with home remedies.
Nonetheless, in mild cases of heatstroke, moving the patient to a cool shady space and giving the patient a rehydrating drink might provide some relief before the patient is taken to a hospital.