Dr. Campbell: Heat stroke signs, symptoms and prevention

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Heat stroke, also referred to as heatstroke or sun stroke, is a life-threatening medical condition.

During a heat stroke, the body’s cooling system, which is controlled by the brain, stops working and the internal body temperature rises to the point at which brain damage or damage to other internal organs may result (temperature may reach 105 degrees Fahrenheit or greater).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 155 people died in 2012 as a result of extreme heat, down from 206 fatalities in 2011. An average of 119 people die each year due to extreme heat conditions in the U.S.

Infants, children under the age of four, the overweight, and the elderly are more likely to have this problem, as are people taking antihistamines, diuretics (water pills), and certain types of medication for high blood pressure, heart disease, or depression.

Signs of rapidly progressing heat stroke include:

  • Unconsciousness for longer than a few seconds
  • Convulsion (seizure)
  • Signs of moderate to severe difficulty breathing
  • A rectal temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit after exposure to a hot environment
  • Confusion, severe restlessness, or anxiety
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sweating that may be heavy or may have stopped
  • Skin that may be red, hot, and dry, even in the armpits
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Even with immediate treatment, it can be life-threatening or result in serious, long-term complications.

There are, of course, ways to prevent heat stroke from happening.

Avoid heat exhaustion by not engaging in strenuous activity in hot, humid environments. People who are not used to the heat should be particularly careful. Intersperse periods of rest in a cool environment with plenty of available fluids to drink and avoid strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing heat stroke, call a doctor or take the person to an emergency department.

Go to a hospital immediately if the person is unable to keep fluids down or if their mental status begins to deteriorate. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or abdominal pain may indicate that the heat exhaustion is accompanied by more serious medical problems.

Do not attempt to treat a case of heat stroke at home, but you can help while waiting for medical assistance to arrive:

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Move the person to a cooler environment, or place him or her in a cool (not cold) bath of water (as long as the person is conscious and can be attended continuously).
  • Alternatively, moisten the skin with lukewarm water and use a fan to blow cool air across the skin.
  • Give cool beverages by mouth only if the person has a normal mental state and can tolerate it.

Treatment of heat stroke in hospital:

  • Treatment is aimed at reducing the patient’s core temperature to normal as quickly as possible.
  • The doctor may use immersion, evaporative, or invasive cooling techniques.
  • In the evaporative technique, cold or ice packs may be placed in the armpits or groin. The skin is kept moist with cool fluid, and fans are directed to blow across the body.
  • An IV will be started and fluids are given rapidly.
  • The patient’s urine output will be monitored.
  • Treatment will continue until the patient’s body core temperature is 101.3-102.2 degrees Fahrenheit and then stopped to keep from making the patient too cold.
  • The patient most likely will be admitted to the hospital for further blood tests and observation.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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