Heat exhaustion is the result of the body overheating when exposed to high temperatures. In the summer time or when in hot areas such as the tropics or desert, our bodies can overheat when we are dehydrated, causing the systems in our bodies to not function in the way that they normally would. This week The Medical Station discusses the effects of heat exhaustion, as well as ways to prevent it and relieve its symptoms.
What is Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is the result of the body overheating when exposed to high temperatures, especially without proper hydration. When we are exposed to high temperatures, we sweat, causing us to lost water in the body. If this fluid is not replaced, the systems that regulate the body begin to overheat. Heat exhaustion is the precursor to heat stroke, which is when the body becomes unable to cool itself at all, and body temperatures become extremely high.
What are the Short-Term Effects of Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion often begins with heat cramps, which affect the large muscles in the legs, core, and arms, especially during exercise. Symptoms of full-fledged heat exhaustion are vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, headache, clamminess, and overall weakness. If you experience these symptoms it is important to begin to treat yourself for heat exhaustion right away by drinking cold water and finding a shaded area.
How is Heat Exhaustion Prevented and Treated?
Heat exhaustion can be easily prevented by following some basic guidelines during warm weather. Try to stay in shaded, cool areas, and wear lightweight clothing to minimize heat exposure. Additionally, avoid alcohol when you are in warm conditions, especially when you do not have enough water. Most importantly, always stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. Always be sure to drink at least two cups of water within the 30 minutes before exercising, and at least one cup of water every 20 minutes during physical outdoor activity.
Heat exhaustion is treated through a specialized treatment plan decided upon by your physician, based on the severity of your condition. The initial treatment for heat exhaustion is to rest in a cool, shaded area, and to drink water. You can also try immersing your body in (or spraying yourself with) cold water to lower your core body temperature. Drinking electrolytic fluids such as sports drinks may also prove to be helpful, but only after drinking water first. Physician-administered treatments generally include an intravenous or oral intake of an electrolytic saline solution, as well as possibly calcium, magnesium, or potassium supplements.