Heatstroke: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

As we head into the peak of summer, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heatstroke, and understand how to prevent this illness from occurring. Heatstroke is a health condition that’s caused by your body overheating, typically due to prolonged exposure outside in hot, summer weather. If you are at the beach all day on a hot summer day, with no beach umbrella, shade, and little to no swimming breaks, you could be putting yourself at risk for heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Physical exertion in hot summer weather, such as hiking when the sun is out and the temperatures outside are extremely high, can also potentially result in heatstroke. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to follow these tips for exercising safely in the summer heat.

Heatstroke is the most severe heat-related illness. You cannot ignore the signs of heatstroke, as it can sometimes escalate into a medical emergency. Watch out if general heat exhaustion symptoms get worse, such as experiencing extreme fatigue, light-headedness, vomiting or having more painful headaches.

When you or your family members do not feel better after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking water to combat heat exhaustion, you may need medical attention – especially if you take your temperature and it’s above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or you’re going in and out of consciousness.

Signs and Symptoms of Heatstroke

The following are some of the signs and symptoms of heatstroke:

  • High temperature of above 40 degrees Celsius (or 104 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Racing heart rate (your heart rate increases as your body works hard to cool you down)
  • Flushing red skin
  • Throbbing headache
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Not sweating even when feeling hot
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dark colored urine
  • Feeling disoriented and confused
  • Change in mental state or behavior (such as delirium, agitation or slurred speech)
  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness or being unresponsive

Heatstroke Serious symptoms such as loss of consciousness, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke, which is why it’s the most serious heat-related illness.

Treatment for Heatstroke

If you suspect that yourself or your loved one has heatstroke, action should be taken immediately. This is what you should do:

  • Cold water immersion: Take a long, cold shower if you don’t have a bathtub. If you have a bathtub, take a bath in cold water to lower your core body temperature.
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Use cold towels, cooling blankets or ice packs. You can cool yourself down the fastest by applying ice to your neck, back, and armpits. Put a cold compress on your forehead as well.
  • Stay in an air-conditioned, cold room. Ensure you’re recovering in a space that is not hot. If you don’t have air conditioning, make your space cooler by closing the blinds, using fans, and turning off the lights.
  • Check your temperature and monitor it: If your temperature does not fall from 40 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit after 30 minutes of cooling methods, it’s time to seek medical attention.
  • If your body is not cooling down, seek medical attention. Doctors at hospitals have special methods for treating heatstroke. For serious cases of heatstroke, a cooling device known as an endovascular cooler is inserted into a large blood vessel in the thigh  to cool the blood.

As you can see, the treatment for heatstroke focuses on methods of cooling your body down, and checking your temperature regularly to ensure your body is cooling down. By monitoring your temperature, you can make an informed decision about whether or not you need to go to the hospital. You should not try to recover from heatstroke alone, since loss of consciousness is possible when your body can’t cool down. Ask a friend, neighbor or family member to help.

Heatstroke needs immediate action to be taken, as things could take a turn for the worse very rapidly. Left untreated, heatstroke could cause damage to your brain and vital organs. If the person with heatstroke is unconscious with no other life-threatening issues and is breathing, you can move him or her into the recovery position. This position keeps air passages open and clear of obstructions. It also prevents the unconscious person from choking on his or her own saliva or vomit while you wait for help.


How to Prevent Heatstroke

When temperatures are high, we all risk getting heat exhaustion and heatstroke in the summer. Whether it’s outdoor exercise like running, hiking and biking in the heat, or engaging in leisure activities like fishing, kayaking, or spending time at the beach in the heat, anyone could experience a heat-related illness.

Preventing heat-related illnesses from occuring in the first place is much better than having to act fast to combat the illness.

To prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke:

  • Drink plenty of cold water when out in the sun, especially when exercising or engaging in other activities. Drink plenty of water even if you’re not thirsty.
  • Take breaks from the heat by finding a nearby air-conditioned cafe, opening your umbrella, finding a shady spot, or going for a swim in the cold water.
  • Wear light-colored clothing with breathable fabric
  • Bring a spray bottle full of cold water, so that you can spritze yourself with cold water every 20 minutes to help your body stay cool.
  • Wear a sun hat and sunscreen
  • Try to avoid the midday sun, as temperatures are typically the highest from 11am – 4pm.
  • If you can’t avoid the midday sun, reduce the length of time you spend outside in the heat. It’s not wise to spend several hours outside in the heat. Excessive time spend outside in the heat puts you at higher risk of heatstroke.
  • Don’t exercise in the heat for longer than 45 minutes, and use the above tips to stay cool if you’re exercising in the heat.
  • Take cooling baths or cold showers when you get home, to cool your body down.

Staying vigilant as you have fun in the summer sun helps ensure your safety. Being aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, as well as taking steps to prevent this illness from occurring, ensures you can enjoy the summer while staying safe.

Following all these tips will ensure your body temperature doesn’t spike to a dangerous degree. When engaged in outdoor activities with your family this summer, keep an especially close eye on the elderly, young kids, and people with chronic health conditions such diabetes, obesity, hypertension or cardivascular disease.

Moreover, studies show that some people are also more genetically vulnerable to heat stress.

Are You Genetically at Higher Risk of Heatstroke?

Individuals who have health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovasucular health conditions or hypertension (high blood pressure) could be more prone to heat-related illnesses in the summer months.

To find out if you are at higher risk of these health conditions due to your genetics, take a CircleDNA test and read your detailed genetic health reports.

Since heat-related illnesses are all preventable by taking heat-safety measures, we must all do what we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe during the hot months of the year.

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