(Last Updated on : 01/02/2014)
Sunstroke (heat stroke) is a condition in which the body's ability to regulate heat fails and it turns into accurate life threatening condition due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures or excessive production of heat. It can be further preceded if the body is exposed to heat exhaustion or continuous strenuous activity. Body temperatures rise to very high levels which can also damage body organs. Sunstroke can be fatal to life and can also lead to death. In this condition, body is unable to lose heat and return to its normal body temperatures. Heat exhaustion may be accompanied by heat cramps: sudden painful muscle spasms in the arms or legs, and sometimes the abdomen.
In a hot and humid environment, your body itself tries to get rid of heat by increasing blood flow to the body, sweating and releasing warm air from your mouth. This heat related problems can supervene if these symptoms are not given attention and it will further lead to sun stroke. When blood temperature rises above its normal range, a control centre in the brain (the hypothalamus) signals the circulatory system to increase blood flow and enlarge the blood vessels, particularly those in the skin. As more blood flows through the enlarged vessels, excess heat from the blood passes into the cooler air. If this is not sufficient to cool the blood, the sweat glands begin to produce sweat, which cools the skin as it evaporates. If the air temperature is very high, however, the blood may not cool down enough as it circulates through the skin. Also, when you lose too much fluid, the blood volume decreases, and body temperature increases. If the body continues to generate heat faster than you can lose it, the core temperature (central body temperature) may rise to dangerous levels, causing heat exhaustion or sunstroke.
Basically sunstroke takes place when the body is exposed to high temperatures which you are not used to or by over exercising continuously particularly in summer or when you are suffering from illness. Over dressing, overeating, drinking too much of alcohol can act as contributing factors to sunstroke.
Persons susceptible to sunstroke can be anyone who is exposed to high temperatures
but the following mentioned groups must take special care and precautions to save themselves from suffering from sunstroke. Children's, elderly people, people suffering from chronic conditions such as arteriosclerosis and congestive heart failure, diabetes mellitus, alcoholism.
Symptoms and signs of sunstroke
The Skin becomes hot and dry; Skin is first flushed, then pale or purple, No sweating, Hyperventilation, rapid, bounding pulse (alternates between a higher intensity than normal, then disappears quickly), Lethargy or stupor (reactions become extremely slow and sluggish), Loss of consciousness, body temperature may rise to 40°C or higher.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion
Headache, Muscle cramps, Confusion, heat cramps, Diarrhea, fainting, Vomiting, dark yellow or orange urine, dizziness or lightheadedness , Weakness and fatigue, Pale, clammy skin ,Weak, rapid pulse.
Diagnosis of Sunstroke
The doctor may first review your symptoms and take temperature readings and check the blood pressure level. Rectal temperature may be taken rather than temperature in the mouth. The doctor may also take a sample of your blood and urine.
Treatment of sunstroke
Sunstroke is a medical emergency and needs to be taken care of immediately. As soon as you feel, the person is suffering from sunstroke call an ambulance to take the person to the hospital. The preliminary target is to lower the increasing body temperature so till you are waiting for any assistance take emergency preventive measures such as remove the clothes of the person and immerse his body in a cold water bath and if this is not possible cover the body with a wet sheet or clothes or sponge down the body with cool water or rub the limbs with ice-cubes. And if the water supply is limited, cooling the head and neck becomes the priority. Rub the ice cubes on the head and neck of the person. Fan the person with newspaper, towel or electric fan so that the body gets excessive air flow which can help in lowering the body temperature. After the bath take the person to a cool place. Massage the extremities (arms and legs) to encourage the return of cool blood to the brain and the core of the body. And if the person is conscious then, make him drink cool water or a soft drink. If the person is still in a unconscious state continue with external cooling in the hope that the person may recover sufficiently and start drinking water. While cooling the body down, take the person's temperature rectally after every 10 minutes and do not allow it to fall below 38.5°C. Immerse the person in a cold bath until his temperature falls to 39.4°C. If you don't have a thermometer, continue with the preventive measures until the body feels cool to touch. Resume cooling if the body starts to heat up again.
Treatment of heat exhaustion and heat cramps
Household treatments can be applied to heat exhaustion and heat cramps. Lay the person on a cool place, loosen or remove the clothes of the person and sponge the body with cold water or apply wet clothes or ice packs. Fan the person to lower the elevated body temperature to cool the atmosphere. Offer salty or sweet drinks which acts as an energy booster. You can add a teaspoonful of salt or sweet drink powder dissolved in a litre of water and make the person drink it sip by sip over an hour. If the person is elderly and can not take salty water in, he or she must be taken to the hospital immediately. Heat cramps can be relieved by massage and stretching. Firm pressure on the cramped muscles and warm towels may help. Drinking a salty solution is recommended for heat exhaustion. Anyone who has or had heat cramp should rest for 24 hours afterwards.
Effects of sunstroke
Heat exhaustion is not life threatening unless it is ignored, but sunstroke can prove to be fatal if the treatment is not done properly. Once the cooling mechanism fails in lowering the body temperature a person's core temperature can rise rapidly and death can occur in as little as 30 minutes. Some people die up to several weeks after the initial acute episode, as a result of complications such as kidney failure or heart failure. Sunstroke kills over 10% of its victims. Sunstroke may also cause permanent damage to organs such as the liver.
Preventive methods of sunstroke
The following measures can help prevent problems relating to heart and sunstroke:
Drink plenty of water when you spend a lot of time in hot environment and do not wait until you feel thirsty to drink and drink more than you need for quenching your thirst, particularly when you have been sweating.
Drink water before, during and after exercising
Rest during the hottest part of the day.
Wear light coloured, light weighted and loose fitted clothes in hot weather. Cotton is the best garment as it allows more air to pass.
Try to make your exposure to the sun limited.
Wear a hat or cap, preferably one with a wide brim, especially if working in the sun because the head is particularly sensitive part to heat.
Before being very active to the changing weather, take time to get used to it. Your body will slowly adapt the changing temperature.
If you are an endurance runner or cyclist you should train in hot conditions if you know that you will race in these conditions. This allows your body to start to get used to the heat. Take care to drink adequate fluids while training and don't overdo it when you first start adapting the changes.
Open windows, or use a fan to improve indoor air circulation.
Eat light, small meals, and limit alcohol intake in hot weather. Avoid alcohol before, during, and immediately after exercise. Alcohol causes you to lose more fluid than you consume.
Limit vigorous and strenuous activity during hot or humid weather, especially during the middle of the day.