Heat-Related Illness: Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, can have serious consequences if not properly addressed. Heat-related illnesses affect individuals of all ages and backgrounds. 

Every year, millions of people worldwide experience heat illness, with certain groups being more vulnerable such as elderly individuals, children, athletes, outdoor workers, and those with pre-existing health conditions. 

Schedule a consultation with our expert specialists at OrthoNeuro, located in Columbus, Ohio. Call us today or book an appointment online!


What Are Heat-Related Illnesses?

Heat-related illnesses are serious conditions, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, that occur when your core body temperature rises above its normal level. The human body naturally maintains a stable internal temperature, but when it is exposed to excessive heat or hot weather, problems can arise.

A woman suffering from heat stroke in Columbus, OH.

Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke 

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are both heat-related illnesses, but they differ in their severity and the body’s response to heat.

Heat exhaustion is a milder condition compared to heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is characterized by an increase in body temperature that remains below the critical threshold of 104°F (40°C). 

Heat stroke, on the other hand, is a more severe condition where the body’s cooling mechanisms fail, leading to a rapid and dangerous rise in body temperature. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may require immediate treatment.


What Causes Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke?

Heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion and heat stroke, are primarily caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures or humid weather, particularly in combination with other factors, such as physical exertion and inadequate fluid intake. 

Some common causes of heat exhaustion and heat stroke are: 

  • Prolonged exposure to high temperatures
  • Physical exertion in hot weather
  • Inadequate fluid intake and dehydration
  • High humidity impeding sweat evaporation
  • Wearing excessive or inappropriate clothing in hot conditions
  • Failure of the body’s cooling mechanisms
  • Certain medications that affect the body’s response to heat

What Are the Main Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion?

Some of the main symptoms of heat exhaustion include: 

  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps or heat cramps
  • Pale, cool, and clammy skin
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fainting or feeling faint
  • Normal or slightly elevated body temperature (below 104°F or 40°C)

What Are the Main Symptoms of Heat Stroke?

The main symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • High body temperature, often exceeding 104°F (40°C)
  • Hot and dry skin, lacking sweating
  • Rapid and strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness or coma
  • Rapid and shallow breathing
  • Elevated blood pressure

Heat stroke is a severe condition and is considered a medical emergency. Immediate medical attention is necessary if heat stroke is suspected.


How Is Heat Exhaustion Treated?

Heat exhaustion is commonly treated by taking prompt measures to cool the body and replenish fluids. The primary goal is lowering and regulating body temperature while addressing dehydration. 

Here are common methods used to treat heat exhaustion:

  • Move to a cooler environment to minimize further exposure to heat.
  • Lie down and rest, allowing your body to return to a normal body temperature.
  • Hydrate yourself by drinking cool water or an electrolyte-rich sports drink to help replenish fluids lost through sweating. Drink small sips frequently.
  • Apply cool water to your body using damp towels or misting the body with water.
  • Place ice packs or cold compresses on the neck, armpits, and groin areas, where large blood vessels are located.
  • Remove excess clothing or loosen tight garments to aid heat dissipation and enhance air circulation around the body.
  • Monitor vital signs by keeping an eye on the person’s temperature, pulse, and blood pressure to assess their condition and response to treatment. If symptoms persist or worsen, such as vomiting, seek medical attention promptly.

With adequate rest, hydration, and cooling measures, most individuals recover fully from heat exhaustion. However, if left untreated or if heat exhaustion progresses to heat stroke, it can have severe consequences.


How Is Heat Stroke Treated?

Heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment to stabilize and reduce body temperature. The primary focus is on rapidly reducing body temperature while providing supportive care. 

When treating heat stroke, medical professionals take immediate and comprehensive steps to stabilize the individual and reduce their body temperature. 

Here are the common steps taken in the treatment of heat stroke:

  1. Rapid assessment: The medical professional evaluates the person’s vital signs, including body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. They also assess the person’s level of consciousness and mental status.
  2. Cooling measures: The primary objective is to rapidly cool the person’s body. Medical professionals employ various techniques, such as cold water immersion and applying ice packs or cooling blankets to the body.
  3. Intravenous (IV) fluids: Fluids are administered intravenously to replace lost fluids, correct electrolyte imbalances, and support circulation. IV fluids help stabilize the patient and promote hydration.
  4. Respiratory support: If the person is experiencing difficulty breathing, supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation may be provided.
  5. Medications: Medications might be given to control seizures, reduce inflammation, or manage other complications.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Heat Stroke?

In general, it may take several days to weeks for a person to fully recover from heat stroke. The recovery time from heat stroke can vary depending on several factors, including the severity of the condition, the individual’s overall health, and the promptness of treatment.


Preventing Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

To prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke, it is crucial to take proactive measures to protect yourself from excessive heat exposure and maintain proper hydration. 

Here are important steps to help prevent heat exhaustion:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, throughout the day. 
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing in hot weather. 
  • Whenever possible, stay in shaded areas or air-conditioned spaces during the hottest parts of the day. If you’re outdoors, use umbrellas, hats, or other protective gear to shield yourself from direct sunlight. 
  • If you need to engage in physical activity or work outdoors, schedule it for cooler times of the day, such as early morning or late evening. Take frequent breaks in shaded or cool areas, and avoid overexertion.
  • Educate yourself and others about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, including heat exhaustion. Recognizing the warning signs allows for early intervention and appropriate treatment.

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Schedule an appointment with our expert physicians at OrthoNeuro today! We have multiple offices located in Columbus, OH for your convenience. Call us today or schedule an appointment online!

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