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The Basics of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can come on quickly. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you protect yourself and your family as the weather heats up.

Have you ever stayed out in the sun just a bit too long? Did you feel dizzy, tired or weak? If so, you may have been suffering from the early stages of heat stroke, which is a condition not to be taken lightly -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 675 people die annually from exposure to extreme heat. 

Knowing the signs and symptoms and how to prevent heat stroke from occurring so you can enjoy the great outdoors all spring and summer long.

What Is Heat Stroke?
According to the Mayo Clinic, heat stroke is a condition brought on by long-term exposure to high temperatures and/or physical activity, which cause the body to overheat. This excessive exposure impairs the body's ability to cool itself down and an individual is said to be experiencing heat stroke when their body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit/40 degrees Celsius or higher. 

In addition to a high body temperature, the symptoms of heat stroke are:

  1. Muscle cramps <-- often the first sign
  2. Nausea and/or vomiting
  3. Redness of the skin
  4. Confusion or irritability
  5. Slurred speech
  6. Hot, dry skin (caused by exposure to hot weather) or very clammy, cool and damp skin (caused by exertion)
  7. Seizure
  8. Headache
  9. Racing heartbeat
  10. Quick, shallow breathing
  11. Thirst
  12. Fatigue
  13. Dark urine

The key to reducing the damage heat stroke can cause to the body's vital organs and muscles is to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If left untreated, heat stroke can also be fatal. If you've been in a very hot environment or a long time and notice any of these symptoms, it's best to get checked out right away.

Who Is at Risk for Heat Stroke?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), anyone who is exposed to high temperatures or exerts themselves for a long period of time can be at risk for heat stroke. However, extra special attention must be paid for the elderly and children as well as anyone with a medical condition that impacts their body's ability to regulate temperature including heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease and obesity. 

If you suspect someone you're with is suffering from heat stroke, the first thing to do is call for an ambulance. While you're waiting for help to arrive, do what you can to cool them off -- get them in a cool place out of the sun and have them lay down, elevate their feet above their head, remove any excess clothing, give them a drink with added electrolytes, get them into a tub of cool water or otherwise get them wet with cold water or use ice packs.

How to Prevent Heat Stroke
The best way to prevent heat stroke is to limit your time in the sun or in an otherwise hot environment, especially if you're engaged in any physical activity. Always be cognizant of the weather forecast when planning a day outside. When exercising -- in any temperature -- dress in layers of breathable, moisture-wicking clothing you can quickly remove if needed. Always keep water handy no matter where you are and what you're doing -- staying hydrated is essential to help the body maintain an ideal temperature.

For more of the latest health news and information to keep you and your family safe and healthy all year round, check back tomorrow!


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