What causes heat stroke?
The cause of heat stroke is overheating of the body, either from physical exertion performed in high temperatures or unaccustomed, prolonged exposure of the body to high temperatures. Heat exposure comes in many different forms and within that, heat stroke is the most extreme form, with people at higher risk when the body’s core temperature reaches 104 F (or 40 C) or higher.
Heat stroke commonly occurs in the summer months or when people visit tropical climates that their bodies are not accustomed to.
There are two different types of heat stroke, classified by how the individual came to be afflicted by the condition:
- Classic or non-exertional heat stroke occurs from exposure to a hot environment where the body’s core temperature rises well above the normal level. This typically occurs in hot and humid weather during the summer or while on vacation. People with chronic illnesses and older adults are at an increased risk of this form of heat stroke.
- Exertional heat stroke is the result of the body’s core temperature rising to dangerously high levels due to exercising or increased physical activity, or exertion, in hot conditions. It can happen to anyone who is performing any type of physically challenging activity in the heat however it tends to be more common in people whose bodies aren’t accustomed to the higher temperatures.
The risk of either type of heat stroke can be exacerbated by:
- Wearing too much clothing, or clothing that is too heavy for the weather, causing an increase in sweat production and preventing the sweat from being able to evaporate off of the skin’s surface.
- Consumption of alcohol as this increases the chances of dehydration and doesn’t provide the water needed for sweat production.
- Becoming dehydrated by either not drinking enough water or drinking sugary drinks that limit the body’s sweat production.
How do you treat heat stroke?
In cases of mild heat stroke, symptoms can usually be treated at-home, however more severe cases will require medical attention through an urgent care or emergency room for proper treatment to return the body back to normal body temperature. If this isn’t done quickly after heat stroke sets in, damage to the brain or other vital internal organs can occur.
Treatment for heat stroke can include:
- A cold-water bath is one of the most effective ways of lowering the body’s core temperature. Where possible, get into this bath right away to start the process and prevent serious organ damage that can result in death if not treated.
- If cold water immersion is not a feasible option, the body can be sprayed down with cold water and then dried using a fan to expedite the evaporation process.
- Another option is to wrap the body with a special cooling blanket, then insert ice packs under the blanket on specific areas of the body such as the back, neck, armpits and groin to speed up the cooling off process.
- When being treated by a doctor or medical professional, they may give the patient a muscle relaxant to help stop any shivering. Exposure to the extreme cold used in these treatments can trigger shivering, which increases the body’s temperature and will counteract the cooling method being used.
For moderate to severe heat stroke, individuals should use the previous options to try to lower their body temperature while they wait for medical treatment.
Mild cases of heat stroke often don’t require medical attention and can be treated by trying the following techniques:
- Get yourself to a cool area, ideally one that is air-conditioned, to cool off.
- Wrap up in cool damp sheets or spray cool water over your skin.
- Have a bath or shower in cool water, or jump in a pond, lake or other body of water that is cooler than the outside air temperature.
- Rehydrate your body by drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol or sugary drinks that can make symptoms worse.
If none of these methods work to relieve heat stroke symptoms, get checked by a doctor immediately to ensure that you don’t have a more serious condition than originally thought.
What happens to your body during heat stroke?
During heat stroke, your body’s internal temperature will rise to dangerous levels as a result of exposure to the heat. While some increase in the internal body temperature is normal from spending time outside when it’s hot, heat stroke can occur when the body’s temperature reaches 104 F, or 40 C. Heat stroke negatively affects the body’s natural processes due to the increase in temperature and puts the individual at risk of serious internal organ damage, and in extreme cases it can lead to death if not treated. People suffering from heat stroke may appear to be confused, agitated, irritated or delirious. They may also exhibit slurred speech and in extreme cases they may experience seizures and could fall into a coma. Additional symptoms of heat stroke can include nausea or vomiting, shallow and rapid breathing, increased heart rate, headaches and unnaturally flushed skin.
What is the difference between heat stroke and sun stroke?
Sunstroke and heat stroke are similar conditions that are often confused as they both have an increase in the body’s internal temperature as the result of prolonged exposure to heat. The symptoms between the two are almost identical, with both conditions causing the core body temperature to increase to at least 104 F (or 40 C), which, if left untreated, can cause damage to the brain and vital organs. Heat stroke is a broad classification that includes sunstroke as a sub-condition under it. Sunstroke however differs slightly from a heat stroke classification in that it is a form of heat stroke caused by prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. The broader term of heat stroke refers to any condition that is caused by exposure to heat and doesn’t involve the sun, for example on a hot but cloudy day. If you are experiencing any symptoms of heat stroke, or sun stroke, then we encourage you to contact us through our website. American Family Care – Urgent Care is open 7 days a week and we accept walk-ins. We serve patients from Memphis TN, Arlington TN, Atoka TN, Bartlett TN, Braden TN, Brighton TN, and Burlison TN.