Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.
Heat exhaustion: This condition often occurs when people exercise (work or play) in a hot, humid place and body fluids are lost through sweating, causing the body to overheat. The person's temperature may be elevated, but not above 104°F.
Heat stroke: This medical condition is life-threatening. The person's cooling system, which is controlled by the brain, stops working and the internal body temperature rises to the point where brain damage or damage to other internal organs may result (temperature may reach 105+°F).
Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke Causes
Heat exhaustion is typically caused when people who are not well adjusted to heat exercise in a hot, humid environment.
- At high temperatures, the body cools itself largely through evaporation of sweat.
- When it is very humid, this mechanism does not work properly.
- The body loses a combination of fluids and salts (electrolytes).
- When this is accompanied by an inadequate replacement of fluids, disturbances in the circulation may result that are similar to a mild form of shock.
- Medical conditions or medications that impair the body's ability to sweat may predispose people to this problem.
- Heat stroke happens in the following two ways:
- The classic form occurs in people whose cooling mechanisms are impaired.
- The exertional form occurs in previously healthy people who are undergoing strenuous activity in a hot environment.
- Infants and the elderly are more likely to have this problem, as are those who are taking antihistamines and certain types of medication for high blood pressure or depression.
Heat stroke may often develop rapidly.
Signs and symptoms resemble those of shock and may include:
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Heavy sweating
- Rapid, weak heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- Cool, moist, pale skin
- Low-grade fever
- Heat cramps
- Dark-colored urine
Heat exhaustion treatment
Cooling measures that may be effective include:
- cool, non-alcoholic beverages, as directed by your physician
- cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
- an air-conditioned environment
- Lightweight clothing
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