What is heatstroke?


Heatstroke is defined when the body overheats, and it can no longer maintain a healthy temperature. Usually, it is a result of prolonged exposure or physical exertion at high temperatures.  The most serious form of heatstroke is caused if the body temperature rises to 40°C or above.  Heatstroke is very common in the months of summer. People can avoid heatstroke by taking precautions. It is sometimes called hyperthermia (body temperature raise significantly). Heatstroke needs immediate medical treatment to lower the body temperature. Untreated heatstroke can damage the brain, kidneys, heart, or muscles.


What are the symptoms of heatstroke?


The signs and symptoms a person may experience during a heatstroke include:


  • Rapid pulse
  • Fast & shallow breathing
  • Trouble speaking & slurred speech
  • Problems concentrating or coordinating movements
  • Aggressive or strange behaviour
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sudden rise in body temperature
  • Intense thirst
  • Dry and swollen tongue
  • Hot, dry and perhaps red skin, possibly with no sweat
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting


What causes heatstroke?


Heatstroke can occur as a result of:


Exposure to a hot environment: Being in a hot climate results in a rise in the core body temperature. This type of heatstroke is known as classic (non-exertional) heatstroke, typically occurs after exposure to hot, humid weather, especially for prolonged periods. It occurs most often in older people and people with chronic illnesses.


Strenuous activity: Another type of heatstroke known as exertional heatstroke is caused by an increase in core body temperature due to intense physical activity in hot weather. Anyone doing activities in hot weather can get exertional heatstroke, but it is most likely to occur if individuals are not used to high temperatures.


Risk factors


Anyone can develop heatstroke, but there are several factors that may increase the risk:


Age: The ability to manage extreme heat depends on the strength of the central nervous system. In the very young children, the central nervous system is not fully developed, and in adults over 60, the central nervous system begins to deteriorate. This makes the body less able to cope with changes in body temperature.


Exertion in hot weather: Military and army training and participating in sports, such as football, cricket, or distant running events in hot weather, are among the situations that can result in heatstroke.


Sudden exposure to hot weather: Some people may be more susceptible to heat-related illness if they are exposed to an instant increase in temperature, such as traveling in a hotter climate.  People should limit activity for at least several days to allow themselves to habituate to the change. However, the risk of heatstroke may still be there.


Certain medications: Some medications affect the body's ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat. Be careful about medications, especially in hot weather.


Certain health conditions: Few chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung disease, might increase the risk of heatstroke. Being obese, sedentary lifestyle, and having a history of the previous heatstroke may make a difference.


Complications of heatstroke


Heatstroke can result in various complications, depending on its severity. Severe complications include:


Vital organ damage: Without an immediate response to lower body temperature, heatstroke can quickly cause the brain along with other vital organs to swell, possibly resulting in permanent damage.


How is heatstroke treated?


Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If someone has heatstroke, they must be taken to the hospital emergency. Meanwhile, the individual should be given sips of cool fluid and, if possible, lay them in a cool shady place.


For lowering the body temperature, one can help by:

  • Removing excess clothing
  • Sponging or spraying the patient with water and fanning the damp skin
  • Immersing them in cool water
  • Placing cold packs under their armpits, or on the back of their neck


How can heat stroke be prevented?


Heatstroke is a predictable and preventable condition linked to dehydration, so in hot conditions:

1. Drink plenty of water even if not feeling thirsty. Try to avoid hot or sugary drinks.
2. Keep cool, and try to avoid direct sunlight. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, cotton clothing.
3. Wear sunscreen whenever stepping out of the house.
4. Take additional preventions while working or exercising outdoors.
5. Keep the house cool – close windows, shut curtains, and use the air-conditioning facility if possible.
6. Keep children cool and give them lots of fluids.
7. Don't leave babies, children, or pets alone in a car.
8. People with increased risk should be more cautious.



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