Heat Related Illnesses: Heat Stroke

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 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. Do not underestimate the importance of closely monitoring the fluid and electrolyte intake, especially in excessively hot environments.

The most severe form of heat disorder is heat stroke. Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency resulting from failure of the thermoregulatory mechanism, and can result in cerebral, cardiovascular, liver or kidney damage. Heat stroke is manifested by brain dysfunction with impaired consciousness, at times a very high fever, and the absence of any sweating. Persons at greater risk are the elderly or chronically ill and those receiving certain types of medications that interfere with the body’s ability to dissipate heat.

Treatment is aimed at immediately reducing the core temperature of the body, hopefully within a one-hour period of time, and controlling secondary effects. Clothing should be immediately removed and the entire body immersed in water. There are also a number of different alternatives used in the emergency room to lower the core temperature of the body, such as IVs, nasogastric tubes and rectal tubes. Intensive care needs to be given in order to monitor for renal failure due to breakdown of muscle tissue, along with various cardiac arrhythmias, other problems with coagulation of the blood, or liver failure. After the initial crisis has been averted, the patient may want to consider a temporary stay in a skilled nursing facility for outpatient monitoring and care.

So, in this summer’s long hot days, stay well hydrated and exercise in during cooler parts of the day. Ask your physician’s guidance as to what you should or should not do during this particular time of year.