Ask Your Doctor: HEATSTROKE

By anguillian August 3, 2015 09:09 Updated

As the Anguilla Summer Festival approaches, we must be aware of the serious effects of over-exposure to the sun, and our hot and humid environment. Heatstroke or heat exhaustion, if not quickly diagnosed and treated, can result in serious medical complications some of which can be deadly. Remember; heatstroke is preventable.

What is Heatstroke?
Heatstroke, also known as sunstroke, is a serious medical condition – a medical emergency – when the body’s temperature rises too high, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to the sun or physical exertion. The body loses its ability to cool itself and overheats.
Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, thereby increasing your risk of serious complications or death.

What causes a heatstroke?
In Anguilla the most common cause of heatstroke is being exposed to the sun for long periods of time or staying in hot and humid environments for prolonged periods. It occurs often in the very young, older adults and individuals with chronic disorders.
Heatstroke can be caused by intense physical activity in hot weather. Anyone exercising or working in hot weather can get exertional heatstroke, but it is most likely to occur if you are not used to high temperatures.

Heatstroke is made worse by wearing excess clothing that prevents sweat from evaporating easily and cooling your body, and by drinking alcohol which can affect your body’s ability to regulate your temperature. Dehydration caused by not drinking enough water to replenish fluids lost through sweating also makes one more susceptible to a heatstroke.

What are some signs and symptoms of heatstroke?
There are many symptoms and signs of heatstroke, but the main sign is a very high body temperature usually one of 104 F (40 C) or higher. The affected individual might also experience the following:
• Throbbing headaches.
• Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma.
• Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch with heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel moist.
• Nausea and vomiting.
• Rapid breathing.
• Rapid pulse rate
Seeking medical attention
If you suspect that and individual is having a heatstroke you should seek immediate medical attention.
Until a doctor or the ambulance arrives there are some things you can do to help the individual. These include the following:
• Put the individual in the shade or indoors in a cool place.
• Remove excess clothing.
• Try to cool the affected person with whatever means available. Such measures include: putting the individual in a cool tub of water or a cool shower, spray with a garden hose, sponge with cool water, use a fan to cool the room, or place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the person’s head.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency and requires quick medical attention. Treatment is focused on cooling the affected individual’s body to a normal temperature to prevent or reduce damage to his/her brain and vital organs. This is best done in a hospital, but treatment can start at the site of diagnosis. Remember that home treatment is not sufficient for heatstroke.
If you have a heatstroke do not drink sugary or alcoholic beverages to rehydrate. These drinks may interfere with your body’s ability to control your temperature.

Complications of heatstroke
Heatstroke can result in a number of complications depending on how long the body temperature was high. Severe complications include:

Vital organ damage. Without a quick response to lower body temperature, heatstroke can cause your brain or other vital organs to swell, possibly resulting in permanent damage.

Death. Without prompt and adequate treatment, heatstroke can be fatal.
Is heatstroke preventable?
Yes! Heatstroke is preventable in the vast majority of cases. You are encouraged to do the following to prevent heatstroke during this hot weather:
• Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. Wearing excess clothing or clothing that fits tightly would not allow your body to cool properly.

• Protect yourself against sunburn. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself, so protect yourself outdoors with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you are swimming or sweating.
• Drink plenty of fluids, for example, fresh coconut water. Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature.

• Never leave anyone in a parked car. This is a common cause of heat-related deaths in children.
It is not safe to leave a person in a parked car in warm or hot weather, even if the windows are cracked or the car is in shade. When your car is parked, keep it locked to prevent children from getting inside.

• Get acclimated. This applies mostly for our visitors from North America and Europe. Limit time spent working, exercising or partying in the heat until you are conditioned to it. People who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness. It can take several weeks for your body to adjust to hot weather.

Heatstroke is a serious disorder that is largely preventable. Some simple measures can help prevent this problem. The environment appears to be extremely humid and hot this time of the year. During the Summer Festival, individuals are encouraged to take the necessary preventative measures to decrease the incidence of heatstroke. If you suspect an individual is having signs and symptoms of a sunstroke seek immediate medical attention. Prompt treatment can help prevent serious complications.

Ask Your Doctor is a health education column and is not a substitute for medical advice from your physician. The reader should consult his or her physician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field are ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.

Dr Brett Hodge MB, BS, DGO, MRCOG, is an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist and Family Doctor who has over thirty two years in clinical practice. Dr Hodge has a medical practice in The Johnson Building in The Valley (Tel: 264 4975828).


By anguillian August 3, 2015 09:09 Updated


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