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Definition

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures, and it often is accompanied by dehydration.

There are two types of heat exhaustion:

  • Water depletion. Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.
  • Salt depletion. Signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.

Although heat exhaustion isn’t as serious as heat stroke, it should not be taken lightly. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs, and even cause death.

How common is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat Exhaustion is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Heat Exhaustion?

The common symptoms of Heat Exhaustion are:

  • Confusion;
  • Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration);
  • Dizziness;
  • Fainting;
  • Fatigue;
  • Headache;
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps;
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea;
  • Pale skin;
  • Profuse sweating;
  • Rapid heartbeat;
  • Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat;
  • Weak, rapid pulse;
  • Low blood pressure upon standing.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you think you’re experiencing heat exhaustion:

  • Stop all activity and rest;
  • Move to a cooler place;
  • Drink cool water or sports drinks.

 If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes heat exhaustion?

Your body’s failure to cool itself. In hot weather, your body cools itself mainly by sweating. The evaporation of your sweat regulates your body temperature. However, when you exercise strenuously or otherwise overexert in hot, humid weather, your body is less able to cool itself efficiently. As a result, your body may develop heat cramps, the mildest form of heat-related illness. You usually can treat heat cramps by drinking fluids or sports drinks containing electrolytes (Gatorade, Powerade, others), getting into cooler temperatures, such as an air-conditioned or shaded place, and resting.

Besides hot weather and strenuous activity, other causes of heat exhaustion include:

  • Dehydration, which reduces your body’s ability to sweat and maintain a normal temperature.
  • Alcohol using, which can affect your body’s ability to regulate your temperature.
  • Overdressing, particularly in clothes that don’t allow sweat to evaporate easily.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Heat Exhaustion?

There are many risk factors for Heat Exhaustion, such as:

  • Age: Infants and children younger than 4 and adults older than 65 are at higher risk of heat exhaustion. The body’s ability to regulate its temperature isn’t fully developed in the young and may be reduced by illness, medications or other factors in older adults.
  • Certain drugs: Medications that affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and respond appropriately to heat include some used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems (beta blockers, diuretics), reduce allergy symptoms (antihistamines), calm you (tranquilizers), or reduce psychiatric symptoms such as delusions (antipsychotics). Additionally, some illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, can increase your core temperature.
  • Obesity: Carrying excess weight can affect your body’s ability to regulate its temperature and cause your body to retain more heat.
  • Sudden temperature changes: If you’re not used to the heat, you’re more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion. Traveling to a warm climate from a cold one or living in an area that’s experienced an early heat wave can put you at risk of a heat-related illness because your body hasn’t had a chance to get used to the higher temperatures.
  • A high heat index: The heat index is a single temperature value that considers how both the outdoor temperature and humidity make you feel. When the humidity is high, your sweat can’t evaporate as easily and your body has more difficulty cooling itself, making you prone to heat exhaustion and heatstroke. When the heat index is 910 F (330 C) or higher, you should take precautions to keep cool.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is heat exhaustion diagnosed?

If you need medical attention due to heat exhaustion, it may be apparent to medical personnel that you have heat exhaustion, or they may take your temperature to confirm the diagnosis and rule out heatstroke. If your doctors suspect your heat exhaustion may have progressed to heatstroke, you may need additional tests, including:

  • A blood test to check for low blood sodium or potassium and the content of gases in your blood.
  • A urine test to check the concentration and composition of your urine and to check your kidney function, which can be affected by heatstroke.
  • Muscle function tests to check for rhabdomyolysis — serious damage to your muscle tissue.
  • Imaging tests to check for damage to your internal organs.

How is heat exhaustion treated?

If you don’t begin to feel better within one hour of using the self-care treatment, seek prompt medical attention. You may be given intravenous (IV) fluids to help you rehydrate. Immersing yourself in cold water, misting your skin, placing yourself in front of fans, or using cold or ice packs and cooling blankets are some of the techniques that may be used to bring down your body temperature.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Heat Exhaustion?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with heat exhaustion:

  • Rest in a cool place. Getting into an air-conditioned building is best, but at the very least, find a shady spot or sit in front of a fan. Rest on your back with your legs elevated higher than your heart level.
  • Drink cool fluids. Stick to water or sports drinks. Don’t drink any alcoholic beverages, which can contribute to dehydration.
  • Try cooling measures. If possible, take a cool shower, soak in a cool bath or put towels soaked in cool water on your skin.
  • Loosen clothing. Remove any unnecessary clothing and make sure your clothes are lightweight and nonbinding.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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