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Heat Stroke

As the heat of summer creeps in it is important that we shine a light on the issue of heat stroke. There is very little awareness of this problem outside of the medical community, and that makes us all more susceptible to it because we do not know the warning signs or how to prevent it.

What is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke is defined as a core body temperature greater than 104 F, with complications involving the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures. It can cause severe complications and can even cause death.

What are the risk factors for Heat Stroke?

Age. Infants and children up to age 4, and adults over age 65, are more likely to suffer heat stroke because their bodies adjust to heat more slowly than people of other ages.

Health conditions. Health conditions such as heart, lung, or kidney disease, being obese or underweight, high blood pressure or diabetes (especially uncontrolled), mental illness, autism, Alzheimer’s, sickle cell trait, alcoholism, sunburn, and any conditions that cause fever.

Medications. Taking medications such as antihistamines, diet pills, diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, stimulants, seizure medications (anticonvulsants), heart and blood pressure medications such as beta-blockers and vasoconstrictors, and medications for psychiatric illnesses such as antidepressants and antipsychotics.

Illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine also increase the risk of heat stroke.

How can you prevent Heat Stroke?
One of the most important ways to prevent heat stroke is to stay indoors on days where the heat index is deemed dangerous. Some other ways to prevent heat stroke include: 

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more.
  • Drink extra fluids like water and electrolyte rich sports drinks.  It is recommended that you take in at least 8 oz of water every 20 minutes during outdoor activities (including gardening) on hot days. 
  • Reschedule or cancel outdoor activity. If possible, shift your time outdoors to the coolest times of the day, either early morning or after sunset.

What are the signs and symptoms of heat stroke?

The first sign of heat stroke is a body temp of over 104, but because we do not check our body temperatures regularly throughout the day, the first sign may be fainting. Other signs of possible heat sickness or heat stroke include:

  • A throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling light-headed
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin, different from normal sunburn
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Staggering
  • Seizures

How to Help Someone With Heat Sickness or Heat Stroke:

If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 immediately.  While waiting for them to arrive, do the following to help minimize the effects of heat stroke:

  1. Move the person to a cool area, preferably with A/C but if that is not available, move them to a cool, shady spot. 
  2. Remove any extra (unnecessary) clothing like jackets, socks, vests, etc. 
  3. Fan the person while dabbing cool water over them to bring their temperature down. 
  4. Do not put ice on an older person, young child, or a person with a chronic illness, it could make things worse.  Only apply ice if the heat stroke occurred during vigorous exercise like jogging, biking, etc. Apply ice to the armpits, groin, back, and neck.
  5. Immerse the person in cool water (pool, tub, stream, etc.) taking measures to keep their head above the water. 
  6. Remain on the line with EMS for any other instructions.
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