Heat illness

Heat related injuries fall into three major categories: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Heat Cramps are painful, brief muscular cramps or spasms that occur when the body loses electrolytes during profuse sweating or when inadequate electrolytes are taken into the body.  The most common time this will happen is when the body is exercising in a hot environment.  Heat cramps usually begin in the arms, legs or abdomen, and often precede heat exhaustion.  Cramping may be delayed and occur hours after the workout. Treatment for heat cramps is to rest in the shade, get near a fan, spray the person with water and massage the cramp.

Heat exhaustion is a medical emergency that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.  When a person is suffering from heat exhaustion, they will perspire profusely and most likely will be pale.  Heat exhaustion is most likely to occur in the elderly, people with high blood pressure and people working or exercising in a hot environment.  Symptoms include: heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting and/or fainting.  The skin of the patient may also be cool to the touch.  Taking the patient to a cool place, applying a cool compress, elevating the feet and giving the patient fluids will treat it best.

Heatstroke is the most serious heat related injury.  It's a form of hyperthermia (abnormally elevated body temperature).  These high temperatures cause the brain to lose its ability to regulate body temperature.  The body normally generates heat as a result of metabolism, and the body is usually able to dissipate the heat by either radiation of heat through the skin or by evaporation of sweat.  However, in extreme heat, like our hot Arizona summer temperatures, the body may not be able to drive away the heat and the body temperature rises, sometimes up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.  Another cause for heatstroke is dehydration.  A dehydrated person may not be able to sweat fast enough to dissipate heat, which causes the body temperature to rise.  Infants, the elderly (often with associated heart diseases, lung diseases, kidney diseases or on certain medications that make them vulnerable to heat strokes), athletes or outdoor workers physically exerting themselves under the sun are most susceptible to heatstroke.  Unlike heat cramps and heat exhaustion, heat stroke is a TRUE MEDICAL EMERGENCY that can be fatal if the patient is not treated promptly and properly.  The patient will be hot, reddish and warm to the touch.  Symptoms sometimes mimic those of a heart attack or other conditions.  Their temperature will be high and there will be no perspiration.  Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, headache, muscle cramps, aches and dizziness.  However, some patients will develop heat stroke suddenly without any warning.  THIS IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY!  CALL 9-1-1.  The emergency care of heatstroke is to cool the body as quickly as possible.  One of the best methods for cooling the body during a heat emergency is to wrap the patient in cool, wet sheets.  Heatstroke can lead to hallucinations, confusion, agitation, disorientation, seizure and even coma.

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