Heat stroke

Heat Stroke – Know The Essentials To Beat The Heat This Summer

Summers are a time to laze around and spend time with family but with the rising temperature, the possibility of a heat stroke may hold us back.

Heat stroke is a common occurrence in summers but many are unaware of how life-threatening it can be if  ignored. It is an emergency situation which requires immediate medical attention.

Purvasha Gulati, a 23-year old basketball player, had been practicing continuously for days in the heat to prepare for her next big game. During one such practice session, she suddenly fainted.

Thankfully, her coach acted quickly and took appropriate steps to cool her down immediately. He sprinkled cold water on her and used ice packs to bring down her body temperature which was very high at that time. He then accompanied her to the Emergency room at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital.

Another recent case involved Harish Mehta, 78, who suddenly began vomiting and having breathing problems. He was rushed to the Emergency at our hospital.

Dr. Mayank Uppal, Consultant, Internal Medicine says,“Such cases of heat stroke are common during this time of the year. As the temperature soars, there are more and more people being affected by the heat.”

So let us learn more about this condition and how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones.

What is a heat stroke?

When the body gets overheated due to prolonged exposure to heat or physical exertion in high temperatures it is called a heat stroke. In a more serious form of heat stroke, the body temperature rises to anywhere from 40 degree Celsius to higher temperatures.

Dr. Mayank explained, “Our body has the ability to regulate its temperature. When it gets too hot, it cools itself down by sweating. But when we are spending too much time in the heat or sun and do not consume enough fluids like water, dehydration starts and our body fails to cool itself down. As a result, the body temperature keeps on rising until it reaches a point where we start becoming sick.”

“We should never take a heat stroke lightly and seek treatment for it as soon as possible. The longer the body remains in the high temperature state, the more damaging it is for the organs and overall health of the person.”

Symptoms of heat stroke – How do I know if I had a heat stroke?

As your body temperature starts rising above the normal level, people slowly begin experiencing symptoms like:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Muscle cramps (in arms, legs and stomach)
  • Fatigue

“These are early signs of heat exhaustion. At this stage, if no steps are taken to cool down the body and the body continues to be exposed to sun and heat, then heat exhaustion becomes severe enough to cause a heat stroke.”

What happens if you have a heat stroke?

Heat stroke occurs because the body temperature is too high for it to function properly. As body temperature rises above 40 degree celsius, you begin experiencing symptoms like mental confusion, lightheadedness and unconsciousness.

Due to the high temperature, proteins and membranes around the cells in the body, especially the brain, start malfunctioning. As the body continues to stay in this high temperature state, slowly the organs start giving up.

What causes a heat stroke ?

Heat stroke is mainly caused due to two reasons:

1) Exposure to a hot environment – Heat stroke can occur when the body is exposed to a hot, humid environment for a long period of time. This mostly happens to people whose bodies are naturally not able to regulate their body temperatures properly like elderly people, very young children and people suffering from a chronic illness.

2) Intensive physical activity – Exertional heat stroke is a common occurrence in people who are into sports and so are regularly involved in strenuous physical activities in the hot weather.

Dr. Mayank says, “Certain factors increase the chances of developing a heat stroke during summers.” These are:

  • Age – Elderly people and young children are more prone to getting a heat stroke because their body is not as capable to regulate its temperature.
  • Lack of water intake – Drinking less than the stipulated amount of fluids in a day along with continued exposure to the sun results in dehydration which accelerates the process of getting a heat stroke.
  • Obesity – Being overweight or obese makes people prone to developing heat strokes. This is because the fat stored in their bodies tends to generate more heat and also reduces the body’s ability to lower its temperature when required.
  • Alcohol intake – Drinking more alcohol during hot summer days increases the chances of having a heat stroke as it reduces the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.

Heat stroke treatment – What should you do if you suspect heat stroke?

Knowing the right measures to take when you or somebody around you is having a heat stroke is very important in preventing casualties.

Dr. Mayank says, “As heat stroke is an emergency situation, you have to move fast. If you or anybody around you experiences any of the early signs of heat exhaustion like vomiting, lightheadedness or muscle cramps, the first step you must take is to lower the body temperature by cooling it down.”

This can be done by taking the following measures:

  • Immediately move the person to a cooler place, preferable an air-conditioned room
  • Remove any tight and unnecessary clothing on the person to allow the air inside the body
  • Sprinkle some droplets of cold water on the person’s face
  • Blow cool air on the person
  • Wrap the person loosely in cool, wet sheets
  • Give ice packs in places like the armpits and neck to fasten the cooling process

When to see a doctor?

Dr. Mayank says, “One should immediately seek help from a doctor when, even after following the necessary steps to cool down the body, the person fails to show any improvement or remains unresponsive for at least 30 minutes.

Also, if the person is not breathing or experiencing loose motions, it’s better to consult a doctor to check if there has been any underlying damage to the body.

How to prevent a heat stroke during summers?

Follow these steps to avoid heat strokes in this scorching heat:

  • Keep yourself hydrated – Ensure that you are properly hydrated at all times by drinking plenty of water and other fluids daily. It will support your body’s cooling process by helping you sweat more. Drink at least 2 to 3 litres of water daily. “If you want to know whether you are drinking enough water or not, observe the colour of your urine. If your urine is light yellowish in colour, it means you are well hydrated. But if your urine is dark yellow or brownish in colour, it means your liquid intake is not enough.”
  • Wear comfortable clothes – It is preferable to wear light-weight and loose-fitting clothes in summers. Go for light coloured clothes rather tan dark coloured ones which tend to absorb heat more. Avoid wearing excessive and tight clothing which interferes in the cooling process of the body.
  • Exercise carefully and at the right time – It is advisable to always avoid doing strenuous physical activities when the day is at its hottest i.e. between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Try to schedule your workout and sports practice sessions for cooler parts of the day. Also, make sure you take regular breaks in between sessions and hydrate yourself properly.
  • Say no to alcohol and coffee – Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine as they tend to encourage dehydration and decreases body’s ability to cool itself down.
  • Sleep well – Sleep for at least 6 to 8 hours daily. Proper rest helps in staying healthy in the hot weather.
  • Eat healthy – Incorporate healthy food items in your diet like fresh fruits and vegetables.

Heat strokes in summers might be common but if we take good care of our bodies and adhere by the right measures to avoid heating up our body, we can surely keep it at bay!