HeatExhaustion/Heat Stroke as a Medical Emergency

By Dr. Uchegbulem A .Eze

THE Summer of 1980 brought with it a severe heat wave that hit the United States and its complications killed as many as 1,700 people. The rising temperature across the country this summer is an ugly reminder to those of us who witnessed the scourging heat of yesteryears.

The human body has a self-regulating mechanism whereby it cools itself down.

This mechanism involves sweating (perspiration). Under certain conditions of extreme temperatures, the body‚s temperature rises rapidly within 10 to 15 minutes that sweating in not enough and the body‚s temperature control system is overloaded. The inability of the body to dissipate body heat through perspiration may cause permanent organ damage or death.

There are two major types of complications of extreme temperature. It may either be a heat exhaustion or a heat stroke.



The body temperature rises to above 102 degrees Farenheight and is unable to respond to excessive loss of water or salt contained in sweat.



The body is unable to control its temperature, sweating mechanism fails, body fails to cool down itself and temperature rises higher than 105 degrees Farenheight within 10 to 15 minutes. Loss of consciousness.

People at risk:

65 years old and older

Overweight (obese)

Ill patients or patients with heart and circulation problems.


Factors that affect the body's ability to cool itself down:

High humidity

Sweat will not evaporate quickly

Old age




Heart disease

Poor circulation


Drug and Alcohol abuse.


Try to keep cool, stay in air-conditioned or shaded areas.

Drink plenty of fluids (2-4 glasses/hour) e.g. water, fruit juices or sports beverage

Avoid alcoholic beverages since they tend to contribute to fluid loss.

Do not take salt tablets unless directed by a physician

Choose lightweight/light-color/loose-fitting clothing.

Avoid sunburn. It affects the body‚s ability to cool itself off.

Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors (choose SPF 15 or greater).

Pace yourself while exercising or working in a hot environment.

Monitor co-workers and others at risk for confusion and consciousness.

Symptoms: These are some signs and symptoms that could clue someone of an impending danger due to long exposure to extreme heat. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires an immediate medical assistance.




Red, dry, very hot skin

Strong and rapid pulse


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Small pupils

Very high fever




Incoherent speech

Rapid/Shallow breathing

Elevated or lowered blood pressure.


Management of Heat Stroke/Heat exhaustion

Complications of prolonged exposure to heat are possible organ damage,

irreparable brain damage or death. Therefore, actions must be taken to

reduce the body temperature to below 102 degrees Farenheight and maintain adequate

circulation as quickly as possible.


Place victim in a cool or shaded place

Elevate feet slightly above chest level

Remove or loosen clothing.

Spray tepid or cool water to bare skin (wrap in wet sheets/immerse in cool


Fan vigorously (use electric fan) to help evaporation

Place ice packs (use cold compress) to head, neck, groin and ampits

Do not give anything/medication by mouth

Do not try to give medication to lower body temperature. Bring temperature down to below 102 degrees Farenheight Call the attention of a physician.

If breathing stops, start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Eze, a Clinical pharmacy/Drug Information specialist, serves as contributing editor of USAfrica The Newspaper and

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