Heat Exhaustion and Stroke: More Serious Thank You Think

By Dr. Tim Moser, Denver House Calls in Denver
Posted

Ralph was in trouble. He had been working all day in the summer heat cleaning out his backyard; since his time at home was so limited, Ralph had decided to get as much done on his day off from work as he possibly could.

The summer sky was devoid of clouds. In the morning, a gentle breeze had been blowing, but as the day progressed, a heavy blanket of humidity had settled over the landscape. Ralph was absorbed in his work so much he did not want to stop for rest or a break in the shade. 

The first symptoms he experienced had been dizziness after bending over. Within the next two hours, the muscle cramps started, with the first hints of nausea.  Ralph was a stubborn man; with his goals in mind for the day, he redoubled his efforts. He was becoming less productive as the sun moved across the sky. As he was about to finish his project in the yard, his legs suddenly gave out.  Lying in the freshly prepared dirt, Ralph was completely unable to stand or even roll over. His flushed skin glistened in the afternoon sun.

A neighbor happened to look over the fence after Ralph had fallen.  He rushed into the yard to help, and called 911 when Ralph was unable to speak clearly.

 

 

About Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a potentially fatal condition, where the body temperature reaches 104 degrees or higher (normal body temperature is about 98.6 degrees).  At this high temperature, organ damage and seizures are likely.

Keep it cool

The body has a narrow temperature range that must be maintained in order for cells to function.  If the temperature varies by more than a few degrees, complete havoc results.  As the temperature rises, some cells (such as skeletal muscle) may even rupture and break down.  The brain becomes more irritable, with confusion and possibly seizures occurring.

The most effective way to cool the body is through sweating.  As the sweat evaporates, heat is lost.  At a maximum, the average person is able to sweat is an amazing one liter per hour. It is easy to see that drinking adequate fluids to keep up with the fluid lost from sweating can be a challenge. Once the body’s fluid reserves become tapped out, then the rate of sweating will decrease. Without adequate sweat production, body temperature will rise. This is especially true when engaging in physical activity.

 

The Progression of Symptoms

Heat stroke is the result of a body temperature on the rise.  Before this is reached, other symptoms are present. 

One of the first indications of an abnormally high body temperature is the development of heat cramps. As the name implies, muscle cramping may occur in the arms, legs, or abdomen. Nausea and excessive sweating may also be present.

For those willing to ignore the symptoms of heat cramps without trying to cool down, the next stage is heat exhaustion.  At this point, symptoms of mental confusion, worsening muscle cramps, nausea, and headache are trying to send you a message to slow down and cool off.  The skin is often cool and moist.

The final step as the body temperature continues to rise is heat stroke.  Now the body temperature is 104 degrees or above.  Serious damage is being done to the various organs and cells of the body, and the risk of death is very real.

The body has maximized all the mechanisms it can use to cool itself down, to no avail. Sweating may slow or stop, as fluid reserves are used up in the body. Muscles become weak and unresponsive.  Confusion may lead to unconsciousness and even seizure. In some cases, the blood pressure drops to the point where shock develops. 

Without immediate medical attention, death is likely.

Treatment

In the early stages of heat injuries, self care is often adequate. If the symptoms of heat cramps develop, stopping physical activity and seeking a cool place are the first steps. 

Replenishing lost fluids help to restore balance in the body. Fluids containing electrolytes and sugar, such as sport drinks, are absorbed by the body more quickly than plain water. Alcohol should be avoided in these circumstances (beer is not always better).

The treatment for heat exhaustion is similar to that for heat cramps. If symptoms escalate, then help from others may be needed. The application of ice packs to the body, wetting clothing, and sitting in front of a fan can be very effective at lowering body temperature.

Be aware that heat stroke is a medical emergency, and should be treated as such! Due to the profound loss of body fluids, replacement with IV fluids is required. Blood and urine tests are performed to assess possible organ and muscle damage. Close monitoring of body temperature is needed to make sure the body is returned to a normal temperature range. In many cases, long term effects of heat stroke can be minimized with proper treatment.

Want more information about heat stroke?

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heat-stroke/DS01025

http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/000056.htm

 

Ralph was in trouble.  He had been working all day in the summer heat cleaning out his back yard.  Since his time at home was so limited, Ralph had decided to get as much done on his day off from work as he possibly could.

  The summer sky was devoid of clouds.  In the morning, a gentle breeze had been blowing, but as the day progressed a heavy blanket of humidity had settled over the landscape.  Ralph was absorbed in his work so much he did not want to stop for rest or a break in the shade.  The first symptoms had been dizziness after bending over.  Within the next two hours, the muscle cramps started, with the first hints of nausea.  Ralph was a stubborn man with his goals in mind for the day as he redoubled his efforts.  He was becoming less productive as the sun moved across the sky.  As he was about to finish his project in the yard, his legs suddenly gave out.  Lying in the freshly prepared dirt, Ralph was completely unable to stand or even roll over.  His flushed skin glistened in the afternoon sun.

  A neighbor happened to look over the fence after Ralph had fallen.  He rushed into the yard to help, and called 911 when since Ralph was unable to speak clearly.

 

Heat stroke is a potentially fatal condition, where the body temperature reaches 104 degrees or higher (normal body temperature is about 98.6 degrees).  At this high temperature, organ damage and seizures are likely.

 

Keep it cool

 

The body has a narrow temperature range that must be maintained in order for cells to function.  If the temperature varies by more than a few degrees, complete havoc results.  As the temperature rises, some cells (such as skeletal muscle) may even rupture and break down.  The brain becomes more irritable, with confusion and possibly seizures occurring.

  The most effective way to cool the body is through sweating.  As the sweat evaporates, heat is lost.  At a maximum, the average person is able to sweat is an amazing one liter per hour.  It is easy to see that drinking adequate fluids to keep up with the fluid lost from sweating can be a challenge.  Once the body’s fluid reserves become tapped out, then the rate of sweating will decrease.  Without adequate sweat production, body temperature will rise.  This is especially true when engaging in physical activity.

 

The progression of symptoms

 

Heat stroke is the result of a body temperature on the rise.  Before this is reached, other symptoms are present.  One of the first indications of an abnormally high body temperature is development of heat cramps.  As the name implies, muscle cramping may occur in the arms, legs, or abdomen. Nausea and excessive sweating may also be present.

For those willing to ignore the symptoms of heat cramps without trying to cool down, the next stage is heat exhaustion.  Now symptoms of mental confusion, worsening muscle cramps, nausea, and headache are trying to send you a message to slow down and cool off.  The skin is often cool and moist.

The final step as the body temperature continues to rise is heat stroke.  Now the body temperature is 104 degrees or above.  Serious damage is being done to the various organs and cells of the body, and the risk of death is very real.  The body has maximized all the mechanisms it can use to cool itself down, to no avail.  Sweating may slow or stop, as fluid reserves are used up in the body.  Muscles become weak and unresponsive.  Confusion may lead to unconsciousness and even seizure.  In some cases, the blood pressure drops to the point where shock develops.  Without immediate medical attention, death is likely.

 

Treatment

 

In the early stages heat injuries, self care is often adequate.  If the symptoms of heat cramps develop, stopping physical activity and seeking a cool place are the first steps.  Replenishing lost fluids helps to restore balance in the body.  Fluids containing electrolytes and sugar, such as sport drinks, are absorbed by the body more quickly than plain water.  Alcohol should be avoided in these circumstances (beer is not always better).

 The treatment for heat exhaustion is similar to that for heat cramps.  If symptoms escalate, then help from others may be needed.  The application of ice packs to the body, wetting clothing, and sitting in front of a fan can be very effective at lowering body temperature.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and should be treated as such.  Due to the profound loss of body fluids, replacement with IV fluids is required.  Blood and urine tests are performed to assess possible organ and muscle damage.  Close monitoring of body temperature is needed to make sure the body is returned to a normal temperature range.  In many cases, long term effects of heat stroke can be minimized with proper treatment.

Want more information about heat stroke?

 

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heat-stroke/DS01025

http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/000056.htm

 

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