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Sunstroke (Heat Stroke): Treatments and Symptoms

Sunstroke, heat stress, or heat stroke is defined as the set of symptoms occurring during an overexposure to sunlight.

The body has mechanisms to control its internal temperature and keep it consistently around 37 degrees celsius, the thermal equilibrium point of the body. This is partly made possible by the hypothalamus, a gland that manages phenomena such as sweat and thirst to compensate.

What Causes Heat Stroke?

In the case of excessive muscular effort or exposure to excessive heat for too long a period, compensation mechanisms can be overwhelmed. An increase in body temperature appears, called hyperthermia, can result in symptoms like those of heat stress, sometimes called "heat stroke."

In extreme cases, it is called malignant hyperthermia. Fragile bodies are more sensitive, especially the elderly, since the aging of certain functions reduces adaptive capacity and the sensation of thirst.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

Symptoms of exposure include an increase in body temperature, which can rise above 40 degrees celsius; redness, especially in the face; excessive sweating; headache; widespread pain; pale skin, with feelings of discomfort; muscle cramps; dizziness; nausea and vomiting; increased heart rate; an increase in respiratory rate; confusion; and flatulence.

In the most severe cases, neurological signs may appear; this is a precursor to malignant hyperthermia.

Diagnosis of Heat Stress

A diagnosis of sunstroke is fairly easy to make. A doctor will observe the physical signs and symptoms that confirm a specific context, namely, prolonged sun exposure.

Treatment of Heat Stroke

Sunstroke should not be neglected, because of its potential progression toward severe disorders. Primarily, it requires an immediate lowering of the body temperature.

To do this, the first steps to take are the simplest: lying the person down in a cool, shaded place; making him or her drink plenty of water; and wetting his or her limbs and head. Once his or her temperature is back down, the individual is out of danger. (N.B. In the most severe of cases, hospitalization may be required.)

Prevention of Heat Stress

Prevention of exposure is best executed through protection against the sun's rays. Avoid exposing yourself without wearing hat and make sure to drink regularly, because dehydration can be fatal.

Image: © Eduard Radu - Shutterstock.com

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