Heat stroke, often incorrectly mistaken or interchanged with heat exhaustion; is a life threatening condition. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body overheats due to exercise in a hot environment and loss of fluids through perspiration. The body’s temperature rises, but not above 104 degrees. By itself, heat exhaustion is usually not life threatening.
Heat stroke occurs when the body’s mechanism in the brain to cool itself stops functioning. The internal body temperature rises so high that internal organs including the brain can be damaged.
Heat stroke symptoms to watch for are:
- Altered or abnormal mental status. Person may be dizzy, confused, hallucinate or be unconscious. Coma can occur.
- Dry, hot, flushed skin. This is a key difference in distinguishing heat stroke from just heat exhaustion. A person with heat exhaustion will be sweating and have moist clammy skin.
- Initially blood pressure may increase slightly. Later the blood pressure may decline rapidly.
- Hyperventilating may occur.
- Temperature of 105°F or more
Treating heat stroke symptoms requires medical attention. Heat Stroke is a medical emergency and an ambulance should be called.
You can help a heat stroke victim until medical personnel arrive by:
- Assisting the person in moving to a cooler environment. If the person is conscious, place them in cool water (not cold) and monitor until help arrives
- If cool water is not an option, moisten the skin with lukewarm water or towels and blow cool air o the person with a fan.
- Give cool liquids by mouth if person is alert and orientated.
Once medical personnel are available treatment is still aimed at reducing the patient’s body temperature back down to normal as soon as possible.
- Immersion, evaporative, or invasive cooling techniques may be used to cool the person’s body.
- The evaporative technique uses cold or ice packs that may be placed in the armpits or groin area. Fans blow air across the body.
- The patient is immersed in cool water during immersion.
- An IV will be started and cool fluids are given rapidly if the invasive technique is utilized.
- The patient’s urine output will be closely monitored.
- Treatment continues until the patient’s body temperature is reduced to 101.3-102.2°F (38.5-39°C) Then it is stopped to keep from getting the patient too cold.
- Most likely the patient should be admitted to the hospital for further blood tests and observation.
Heat stroke often occurs in populations that cannot modify their environment when they become too hot. Infants and children, the elderly, and the bedridden are often victims of heat stroke. People involved in their care should be mindful of environmental conditions and watch for symptoms that they are becoming overheated.
Heat stroke may be prevented if the increasing heat cycle is interrupted and the person is cooled off. Preventing heat stroke can be as simple as drinking plenty of fluids, seeking out shady or air conditioned environments, avoid the heat especially if you are not used to it. Be aware of your body’s temperature to keep you safe.