What Causes Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is most common during the summer. Someone suffering from heat stroke has hyperthermia which is an elevated body temperature. People may not realize that heat stroke is a potentially fatal medical emergency. What causes heat stroke?

When the environment is hot or the body has an increased in temperature due to physical activity, the person sweats to maintain a body temperature of 98.6 degrees. If the person stops sweating or the sweat is ineffective in cooling the body, the person may develop heat stroke. The person can experience a rapid progression of heat stroke to a life-threatening state.

Not drinking enough water while being physically active or outdoors in high temperatures can cause the person to stop sweating. Dehydration is another possible cause of heat stroke. Water is needed for the body’s production of sweat. When sweat is necessary for the body temperature to remain within normal range, the person needs to drink about half a gallon of water per hour. Otherwise, sweat production may stop or decrease which puts the person at risk for heat stroke because there is not enough water to make sweat.

A person having heat stroke can appear red or flushed but have dry skin since the person has stopped sweating. Heat stroke symptoms include fatigue, weakness, and muscle cramps. Some people experience nausea or vomiting. Heat stroke can also cause a headache or dizziness. If the heat stroke progresses, the person may develop seizures, disorientation or confusion, hallucinations, high body temperature, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing. The person can lapse into a coma from heat stroke.

Some people have a higher risk of heat stroke than the average person. Infants and the elderly are prone to heat stroke. Athletes and people who work outdoors during summer have an increased risk of heat stroke.

People who are being physically active in high temperatures should be sure to drink enough water to help prevent this condition. Water and sports drinks are considered to be the most beneficial for preventing heat stroke. Alcohol and beverages with caffeine like sodas can actually increase the risk of dehydration and heat stroke.
If someone is suspected of having heat stroke, emergency medical services should be called immediately. The person should apply cool water and either sit in the shade or in front of a fan. The person may need assistance to follow the directions given by emergency medical services.

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