Heat stroke is a heat related condition that progresses from milder form heat cramps to heat exhaustion and unless treated it turns into heat stroke. Thus identification of earlier phases of heat stroke is vital to prevent life threatening consequences. (1-4)
Heat exhaustion occurs when the core body temperature is above normal 37°C (98.6°F) but below 40°C (104°F). The body loses salts and water and there is a general feeling of illness, faintness and heavy sweating.
This stage needs to be quickly treated by taking the person to a cool place, offering water to drink and removing excess clothing. Within 30 to 40 minutes the patient starts to feel better and there are no lasting ill effects of the condition.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include –
Heat exhaustion may quickly turn into a heat stroke if left untreated. Even with treatment some vulnerable persons may proceed to heat stroke from heat exhaustion. These individuals must be taken to the emergency department immediately.
The vulnerable groups include:
The symptoms of heatstroke can develop over several days or even over several hours.
The onset is rapid if heat stroke is associated with strenuous physical activity. This type of heatstroke is referred to as exertional heatstroke. This affects young persons like athletes, manual labours, construction workers, military personnel and firemen.
The symptoms of heat stroke include:
Heat stroke may also be diagnosed at lower temperatures and some people can reach these temperatures during strenuous physical activity with no signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
As the condition progresses the cells of the body start to breakdown and lose their functional capability at high temperatures.
There may be damage to brain, liver, kidney and muscles. Damage to the brain leads to encephalopathy; to the liver and kidney may lead to acute liver or kidney failure; and damage to the muscles lead to breakdown of muscles called rhabdomyolysis. These conditions may be life threatening.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency and the person needs to be moved to a cool place and his or her excess clothing is loosened. Patient is given cool but not cold water to sip. The body is cooled by fanning or placing a wet cloth over it combined with fanning.