Heat Related Illness

By: Dr. Rickey Patel

Living in South Georgia the majority of us will experience feeling hot and overheated, but how hot is to hot? Feeling hot and overheated are symptoms of heat-related illness. Some heat-related illnesses are even life-threatening such as Heat Stroke. Heat-related illnesses are a common reason for Emergency Room visits, especially during our hot, humid and long summer season. The CDC even reports almost 600 deaths every year from Heat Stroke. Living in South Georgia it is especially important to recognize the signs and symptoms, treatment and prevention of Heat Stroke as it could potentially save your life. 

What is Heat Stroke?

Heat Stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency and the most severe heat-related illness. Heat-related illnesses are a group of syndromes caused by exposure to high temperatures and the body’s inability to cool itself. They especially occur in areas where temperatures can reach dangerous levels, such as South Georgia. These syndromes can be classified as mild (Heat Edema or Swelling, Heat Cramps, Heat Rash), moderate (Heat Syncope or Fainting, Heat Exhaustion) and severe (Heat Stroke).

Who is at risk of Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke can affect anyone but those most at risk are young children and the elderly. Those who work outdoors in high temperatures such as farmers, construction workers, firefighters, military personal and even athletes (football, soccer, baseball, softball) are also at risk. Those with underlying medical conditions such as obesity and who are taking certain medications are also vulnerable.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke?

Heat Stroke is characterized by dangerously high body temperatures of greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms may vary by person but common symptoms including heavy sweating, lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headaches, high heart rate, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and feeling cold/clammy. Life-threatening symptoms include confusion, seizures and coma.

What is the Treatment of Heat Stroke?

Heat Stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. It is important to call your Family Physician or 911 immediately if you think you are feeling symptoms of Heat Stroke. Other strategies include removing yourself from heat, resting, removing excess clothing, rapid cooling with cold/ice water immersion and drinking plenty of water.

How is Heat Stroke Prevented?

Heat Stroke is preventable. The most important way prevent Heat Stroke is to limit exposure to extreme temperatures. Other preventative strategies include staying adequately hydrated, wearing loose fitting or light colored clothing, wearing hats, limiting activity during extreme temperatures, taking frequent breaks and resting.  

Living in South Georgia we can’t escape the heat but we can be better prepared for it. Identifying the signs and symptoms of Heat Stroke early and seeking further evaluation by your Family Physician or local Emergency Department can potentially be lifesaving.