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Heat Stroke

Thousands of people died in the recent heat wave in Europe, sending shockwaves across the rest of the world. India, on the other hand, has just as many people dying of heat every year. The difference is it doesn't make international headlines, so the deaths go unnoticed.

Most people tend to believe that because they are living in air-conditioned environments, they are not susceptible to heat related illnesses. But the fact is that heat related illnesses can strike anyone exposed to high degrees of heat, at any time.

As we all know, the body maintains a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit even when outside temperatures change. The body has its own mechanism to control body temperature, by regulating heat production and heat loss. Heat illnesses result when the body is exposed to more heat than it can deal with.

When a body's temperature rises greatly, the organs and tissues get severely damaged, and if left untreated, the victim always dies.

There are two types of heat stroke:


Classic heat stroke affects young children, the elderly, chronically ill, diabetic, alcoholic and obese people, all of which have low resistance in general. Even with medical care, the death rate of classic heat stroke is 50 percent. It results from a combination of heat exposure and dehydration.


This type affects young, healthy individuals, and usually results from exertion from exercising, playing a sport or indulging in any other strenuous activity in an excessively heated environment, and sweating excessively without replenishing the body's supply of water and salts.

You know a person has heat stroke when:

  • Her body temperature rises and she feels hot to the touch, though she may or may not perspire.
  • She feels confused, disoriented, agitated.
  • She may even lose consciousness.
  • She starts breathing rapidly, and her pulse races.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency, so call for urgent medical help. In the meantime, you can do the following:
  • Take the person to a cool room.
  • Give her water to drink.
  • Lie her down on a bed and elevate her head and shoulders with the help of a thick pillow.
  • If you are in a dry environment with low humidity, splash cool water on her body and fan her.
  • If you are in a humid environment and she is sweating, water may not help unless it is cold. Placing ice on body areas that have abundant blood supply like the groin area, armpits and neck, will help.
  • Remove warm clothing like jeans or nylon, and cover her with a wet cotton sheet.
  • Don't forget to keep fanning her continuously.
  • Keep a thermometer handy so you can monitor the temperature. Once the temperature falls and she regains coherence, you can stop fanning her.

Heat exhaustion is a less severe form of heat stroke, in which the body temperature remains normal and the patient is coherent (there is no mental alteration). However, the patient may pass out or feel extremely faint and weak. Heat exhaustion is essentially due to dehydration, so you must immediately give the patient water with salt or electrolytes, in addition to cooling the patient as detailed above.    

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