Dr. Campbell: Heat stroke — what you need to know


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — We have had some of the hottest weather of the year so far in July—heat indexes have been as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit and this week promises to bring more scorching temperatures.

One of the greatest health risks when we have these high temps is heat stroke. Heat stroke can be a life-threatening emergency and must be handled quickly.

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1. What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke occurs when our bodies overheat after prolonged exposure or exertion in extreme heat. When our core body temperature reaches 104 degrees we are no longer able to cool ourselves and we begin to exhibit the symptoms of heat stroke. Heat stroke can be a life-threatening emergency and requires quick treatment.

Untreated heat stroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death. Those at highest risk include the very young and the very old and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma—just to name a few.

2. What are the symptoms?

• Altered mental state or behavior
• Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heat stroke
• Alteration in sweating. An ominous sign in heat stroke is when you stop sweating
• Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit
• Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases
• Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow
• Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body
• Headache. Your head may throb

3. What should we do if we suspect heat stroke?

If you think someone is experiencing heat stroke call 911. While you wait for EMS to arrive, takes steps to cool the person by any means available:

• Get the person into shade or indoors
• Remove excess clothing
• Cool the person with whatever means available — put in a cool tub of water or a cool shower, spray with a garden hose, sponge with cool water, fan while misting with cool water, or place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the person’s head, neck, armpits and groin

4. How can you prevent heat stroke?

If you have to be outside, here are some tips:
• Take frequent breaks
• Hydrate frequently and be sure to hydrate well before going outside
• Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they can increase your level of dehydration
• Take it easy in the hottest part of the day (10 a.m. – 2p.m.)

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

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