Heat Related Illnesses: Heat Exhaustion

By Dr. Roger Hirchak, Vice President of Medical Services, Shell Point Retirement Community

Now that summer is here, it is extremely important to be aware of some of the subtle (and not so subtle) signs and symptoms of heat disorders that may become a risk for severe problems, if not identified and addressed early. Be aware of the early signs and symptoms of heat disorders and the importance of closely monitoring the fluid and electrolyte intake, especially in excessively hot environments.

A serious heat disorder is heat exhaustion, resulting from prolonged heavy activity with inadequate fluid intake in a hot environment. It is characterized by dehydration and sodium depletion, accompanied by cardiovascular changes, body temperature changes, moist skin and an increased pulse rate. The patient normally complains of being weak, very thirsty and feeling extremely tired, with a headache. Most symptoms are due to water depletion, which may cause impaired judgment and sometimes hysteria. Patients have also been known to hyperventilate. If sweating completely stops, the condition may progress to heat stroke.

Treatment consists of placing the patient in a shaded, cool environment and providing adequate fluid intake. It is not unusual to need treatment in an emergency room, with IV fluid monitoring and often a minimum of 24 hours of rest. Depending on one’s underlying medical health, there may be variances in the recovery rate. A brief outpatient stay in a skilled nursing facility may be advisable.

So, in this summer’s long hot days, take care to practice preventive medicine. Stay well hydrated and exercise in the morning or evening, when it is cooler. Please ask your physician’s guidance as to what you should or should not do during this particular time of year.