heat stroke
Heat stroke logo vector icon illustration

1. What is heat stroke?

Heat Stroke is a serious condition caused by overexertion in hot weather or conditions. The human body can regulate the internal temperature within safe limits spontaneously. When we get hot, the temperature control center inside our body will trigger responses such as sweating and increasing breathing rate to cool us down. Usually, the temperature of our body is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). However, when the environment becomes extremely hot and spontaneous responses cannot effectively cool down our body, heat stroke will occur and serious health problems can result. 【1】Therefore, heat stroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death.【2】

The signs and symptoms of Heat Stroke include:

– Extremely high body temperature (104 F /40 C or higher)

– Rapid heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.

– Irregular breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.

– Flushed skin. You may have hot, red, dry, or moist skin as your body temperature increases.

– Confusion or loss of consciousness. There will be agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures, and even coma.【3】

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If left untreated, Heat Stroke can lead to brain damage or death.

The heat index, a measurement of how hot you feel when the effects of relative humidity and air temperature are combined, is closely associated with heat stroke. Sweat evaporation is hampered by relative humidity levels of 60% or above, which reduces your body’s capacity to regulate its own temperature.

When the heat index reaches 90 degrees or higher, there is a significant increase in the risk of heat-related disease. Therefore, it’s crucial to pay attention to the reported heat index, especially during heat waves, and to keep in mind that exposure to full sunlight can raise the reported heat index by 15 degrees.

heat stroke

2. Who is at risk?

Anyone can develop heatstroke. These people should pay more attention to heat stroke:

The elderly. Heat stroke is most likely to affect older people who live in apartments or homes that don’t have air conditioning or good airflow.

Those who expose to hot weather for long. You may be more susceptible to heat-related illness if you’re exposed to a high temperature for long, such as doing work or doing exercise outdoor.

Those with chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes. People with diabetes — who are at increased risk of emergency room visits, hospitalization, and death from heat-related illness — may be especially likely to underestimate their risk during heat waves. 【4】

Obese. Carrying excess weight can affect your body’s ability to regulate its temperature and cause your body to retain more heat. Sudden temperature changes. If you’re not used to the heat, you’re more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.【5】

Children. Kids are at risk for heatstroke if they overdress or do intense physical activity in hot weather without drinking enough liquids. Heatstroke also can happen when a child is left in or gets trapped in, a car on a hot day.【6】

Pregnant. If you are pregnant, you are more likely to get heat exhaustion or heat stroke sooner than a nonpregnant worker. This is because your body must work harder to cool down both your body and your unborn baby.【7】

Other risk factors associated with the heat-related illness include:

– Certain medications. Some medications affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat. Be especially careful in hot weather if you take medications that narrow your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulate your blood pressure by blocking adrenaline (beta blockers), and rid your body of sodium and water (diuretics), or reduce psychiatric symptoms (antidepressants or antipsychotics).【8】

– Drink ice beverages on a hot day. Drinking beverages that are too cold when it’s too hot outside could be dangerous. The cold ice beverage gets into the esophagus and the stomach, and there are nerves along the esophagus and stomach known as the vagus nerves. These nerves can fire up, send a signal to the brain, and actually cause an individual to pass out and lose consciousness briefly.【9】

heat stroke

3. Why heat stroke can cause death?

Serious situation

Studies suggest that heatstroke occurs in about 20 out of 100,000 people each year in the U.S. It’s most common in urban areas during periods of very hot weather. Heatstroke causes between 240 and 833 deaths in the U.S. annually. 【10】 Heat-related deaths up 56% between 2018 and 2021. Then, why heat stroke can cause death?【11】

Working principle of our body

Our bodies work best when the temperature is 98.5 degrees Fahrenheit (36.9 degrees Celsius). Under normal circumstances, the body manages this through thermoregulation. The brain and other organs work together to keep the body temperature stable. However, when the body is subjected to extreme temperatures for an extended period of time, it cannot keep up.

Heatstroke can occur when the body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). Heatstroke, a cascading series of bodily failures, can cause dizziness, nausea, confusion, and cell death. If the body temperature is not quickly reduced, the brain and nervous system may suffer long-term damage.

How heatstroke causes death

When heat stroke occurs, there will be rapid heart rate. When the heart is overworked, it can stop working properly, cutting off blood flow to the brain and other organs. Fainting is a common side effect of heatstroke caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain.

At 40 degrees Celsius, the blood-brain barrier begins to break down, and unwanted particles and bacteria become allowed in the brain. These unwanted proteins and ions can build up in the brain, then cause an inflammatory response.

What’s more, as the temperature rises, many different cells begin dying off. And the body becomes a pressure cooker and starts (am tempted to say) cooking our internal organs, inflicting severe tissue damage and resulting in multi-organ failure.

4. How to deal with heat stroke?

Heatstroke requires immediate medical treatment. If someone has a heat stroke, please notify emergency services (911) immediately. When you’re waiting for an ambulance to arrive, these tips will be helpful:

  1. Move the victim to a cool place, get the victim to lie down, remove any clothing that is tight or heavy and raise their feet slightly.【12】
  2. Cool their skin. apply cool or tepid water to the skin, fan the victim to promote sweating and evaporation, and place ice packs under the armpits and groin.【13】
  3. If the person is able to drink liquids, have them drink cool water (not too cold) or other cool beverages that do not contain alcohol or caffeine.
  4. Monitor body temperature with a thermometer and continue cooling efforts.
  5. Not giving any medications, including aspirin and acetaminophen.
heat stroke

5. How to prevent heat stroke?

Heatstroke is predictable and preventable. In most cases, it’s possible to prevent heatstroke by:

  1. Avoid vigorous exercise and prolonged activities such as hiking and trekking, as heat, sweating, and exhaustion place additional demands on the body.
  2. Protect against sunburn. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself, so protect yourself outdoors with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or sweating.【14】
  3. Staying in air-conditioned or well-ventilated areas during heat waves. Choose an indoor venue with good ventilation by opening all windows and using a fan or air-conditioning. Avoid doing vigorous exercise in a hot or stuffy environment.
  4. Stay hydrated. Drink two to four cups of water every hour that you’re doing activities outside in the heat or direct sun. Your body needs more water than usual when working in a hot environment because you’ll lose more fluids through sweating. Drinking plenty of fluids will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature.
  5. Avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages if you’re doing strenuous activities, especially in the heat. The caffeine increases your risk for dehydration.
  6. Wearing lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing if you’ll be out in the heat. A wide-brimmed hat will keep the sun from your face and help you stay cooler.
  7. Take cooler baths or showers on a hot day to help cool you down.
  8. Take extra precautions with certain medications. Be on the lookout for heat-related problems if you take medications that can affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat.
  9. Never leave children (or pets) in closed, hot spaces such as cars. The temperature inside a closed environment can become very hot, even if the temperature outside is mild. That can lead to heat-related illnesses.
  10. Monitoring the color of your urine. Darker urine is a sign of dehydration. Be sure to drink enough fluids to maintain very light-colored urine.