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- Sports Medicine -

June 27th, 2012

Heat Stroke and You

Each year heat exposure claims more lives than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. It is the second most frequent cause of death among high school athletes after spinal cord injury. Those affected most by heat related illness are the very young, the very old, those with heart or lung disease, and those who are socially isolated. Men are more frequently affected than women, probably because of a greater likelihood of engaging in heavy labor out of doors.


The major precipitators of heat stroke are high environmental temperature and physical exertion. Moderate physical exercise can double the body’s heat production and strenuous exercise can increase it 10-fold.


Some common findings in heat stroke are rapid pulse, rapid breathing, and elevated body temperature. Nervous system changes may include delirium, confusion, delusions, convulsions, and coma.


The key to survival in heat stroke is early recognition and early treatment. When treatment is delayed, deaths may reach 80%. But with early recognition and immediate cooling, this can be reduced to 10%. Emergency treatment consists of removing restrictive clothing, applying water to the entire body, covering with ice water soaked sheets, and applying ice packs to armpits and groins. The victim should be transported immediately to the Emergency Room.


Of course, the best approach to a problem is to avoid it. Here are some useful prevention tips from the Centers for Disease Control:


  • Drink more fluids, regardless of activity level, without waiting to feel thirsty. Of course, you should consult your doctor in advance if your doctor has advised you to restrict fluid intake.
    The liquids you drink should not contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar. Such liquids could cause you to lose additional body fluids.
    Seek an air-conditioned environment. Even a few hours daily spent in air-conditioning helps.
    Fans are of minimal help when the environment approaches body temperature. A cool shower is much more helpful.
    Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
    NEVER leave a person or animal in a closed, parked vehicle.
    Visit adults living alone at least twice daily and observe them for signs of heat illness.
    Limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
    Rest often in shady areas.
    Wear a lightweight, light-colored, wide-brimmed hat.

So have a safe summer and avoid heat illness.


Thomas Falasca, DO

For more information, see:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heat Waves.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety. Updated July 31, 2009. Available at

Korey Stringer Institute at University of Connecticut

Mayo Clinic: Heat Stroke First Aid

WebMD: Heat Stroke Symptoms and Treatment

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