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Learn How to Prevent Heat Stroke During the Hot Summer Days

August 03, 2010

Washington Hospital Physician Offers Tips for Avoiding Heat Stroke

While there have been only a few sweltering summer days so far this year, August could bring hotter weather and a greater chance for heat stroke. The heat can make anybody sick, but those with chronic diseases and the elderly are more at risk for becoming seriously ill when the temperature goes up.

"Classic heat stroke generally occurs in people who are middle-aged to elderly and lead a sedentary lifestyle or are taking medications for a chronic illness," said Dr. David Orenberg, Emergency Department medical director at Washington Hospital. "People who engage in extreme sports when it’s hot are also at risk for heat stroke. Everyone should take steps to stay hydrated and keep their bodies from overheating when it’s hot."

The body’s natural cooling system depends on staying hydrated. The body cools itself down by sweating and radiating heat through the skin, he explained. When the body is unable to regulate its temperature, body temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.

"We tend to see heat stroke during a prolonged heat wave. Most of the people we see in the emergency room with heat stroke are elderly or in poor physical condition and have no air conditioning," Orenberg said. "One of the major contributors is the medicines they are taking. They interfere with the body’s central thermoregulatory control system by keeping the body from sweating."

Chronic conditions that raise the risk for heat stroke include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, according to Orenberg.

Seek Medical Attention
Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. Orenberg said anyone suffering from heat stroke should seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms include: hot or flushed skin with no sweat, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, hallucinations, headache, confusion, agitation, disorientation, fatigue, weakness and nausea.

"It’s important to get someone with heat stroke cooled down as soon as possible," he said. "Put an ice pack in their armpits and groin area and get them to the emergency room, particularly if they have altered consciousness or high fever."

Extreme athletes who exert themselves when it’s hot are also at risk for heat stroke as well as heat exhaustion, a milder form of heat-related illness, according to Orenberg.

"Young healthy people can get heat stroke by over exerting themselves when it’s hot," he said. "We don’t see many of those cases, but when we do they are usually very sick."

Anybody can get heat exhaustion, he added. Unlike heat stroke, heat exhaustion can often be treated at home by cooling down the body and drinking plenty of liquids. A cool bath and resting in a cool place can help.

While heat can cause serious health problems, you can still enjoy the summer by taking simple precautions. Orenberg offered these tips for avoiding heat stroke and heat exhaustion this summer:

Stay cool. Don’t go outside during the hottest times of the day. Spend time in a cool place. If you don’t have air conditioning, make sure you have several fans. On a hot summer day, find a cool place to spend the hot part of the day, like a mall or movie theater. Light-weight, loose-fitting clothing can also help to keep you cool.

Drink plenty of fluids. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water and other non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated liquids, especially if you are sweating. It’s important to replace what you lose in perspiration.

Exercise with caution. Read the weather reports and plan your sports and exercise activities accordingly. Schedule workouts early in the morning or in the evening when it’s cooler.

"It’s also important to look out for our elderly and sick friends and family," Orenberg added. "Check in with them when it’s hot and make sure they are staying cool and hydrated."

Washington Hospital Cooling Center
During the summer, Washington Hospital will open a cooling center whenever extremely high temperatures affect the local area. The cooling center will be located in the Community Health Resource Library located at 2500 Mowry Ave. (1st floor, Washington West building) in Fremont. Call Washington Hospital’s Community Relations department at (510) 791-3417 to receive updated information on days the center will open. Cool refreshments including water and lemonade are free and the cooling center will also offer a variety of magazines, newspapers and internet access for people to enjoy.

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