How Long Does Heat Stroke Last & What Are Its Lingering Effects? Treatment, Prevention, Prognosis

If you want to know how long does heat stroke last & what are its lingering effects, this article is just for you.

How Long Does Heat Stroke Last?

Heat stroke is a condition in which the core temperature of the body raises considerably, i.e. it becomes more than 104° C in adults and 105° C in children. This happens after getting exposed to high environmental temperatures combined with loss of body thermal auto regulation and neurologic symptoms. Young children, elderly people, and pregnant ladies, face a higher risk for heat stroke.

There are 2 types of heat strokes, namely exertional and non-exertional. Both of them have similar symptoms and treatments. Also known as sunstroke and hyperthermia, heat stroke is a medical emergency and must be treated at once. Wondering how long does heat stroke last & what are its lingering effects? Let us first understand the causes of heat stroke.

How Long Does Heat Stroke Last?

The main causes of heat stroke include prolonged exposure to high temperatures or performing strenuous activities in hot weather. The body’s ability to regulate and control the core temperature gets negatively affected due to the excess heat. Heat stroke can also occur due to dehydration, sunburn, side effects of certain medications, excessive urination, and alcohol consumption. Wearing excessively tight clothing can inhibit cooling by evaporation and triggers heat stroke too. Sun stroke also occurs, and often results in fatality, when a child or pet in left in a vehicle which is not well ventilated or cooled. The average number of child fatalities from heatstroke due to this reason is about 37 deaths per year. Now, how long a heat stroke lasts depends on its cause to some extent, recovery time varies. For minor heat stroke, recovery period can be 2-3 days with treatment either at home or in hospital; complete recovery for either minor or severe heat stroke may take couple of months to even a year depending on severity.

What Lingering Effects of Heat Stroke?

The signs of a heat stroke are noticeable and can catch attention. The lingering effects of heat stroke depend a lot on the cause and the immediate medical help available at the earliest. Heat stroke is usually marked by symptoms like high fever, muscle cramps, profuse sweating, exhaustion, headache, rapid breathing and pulse rate, dizziness, and skin dryness and redness. Hallucinations, confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, organ damage are some of the tong term problems and lingering effects of heat stroke. Coma, and fatality can also occur if sunstroke is not treated quickly and effectively.

Sun stroke should be treated as a medical emergency and the doctor should be contacted promptly to address any signs of this condition. While medical treatment arrives, the patient should be given first aid. Their body should be cooled by moving the patient to a shaded or an air conditioned premise, removing their clothing layers, and providing them with evaporative cooling. It is also recommended that ice packs or wet towels be placed on the person’s head, armpits, neck, and groin to offer immediate relief. Appropriate first aid can reduce the lingering effects of heat stroke.

How is Heat Stroke Diagnosed and Treated?

The diagnosis of heat stroke depends on the patient’s symptoms, exposure to hot surroundings, and their core body temperature. Test like chest x rays, MRI and CT scan can be conducted to detect organ damage and lingering effects of heat stroke. Urine studies can be done to identify liver damage, renal damage, and rhabdomyolysis.

Other tests may be performed to check electrolyte levels in the body. These investigations are helpful in assessing the possibility and severity of any lingering effects of heat stroke.

In addition to the severity of the condition, how long does heat stroke last, depends on the type of treatment received. Heat stroke is treated immediately by cooling the patient’s body. This is commonly done by either spraying cold water on the patient’s body, or covering it with cold water soaked sheets, and using fans to increase evaporative cooling. Even ice packs can be placed on the head, armpits, neck, and groin for cooling the patient’s body. Benzodiazepines can be administered for preventing shivering. Patients suffering from sunstroke generally get dehydrated. So intravenous fluids also need to be given to them. The goal of the treatment is to reach a core body temperature of below 102.2 ° C, and this is generally achieved within the first 60 minutes of treatment. Also other supportive measures for hypotension, breathing, and seizures may be required.

How Can Heat Stroke Be Prevented?

Heat stroke can be prevented by practicing simple precautionary measures like wearing light colored, lose fitting clothes and staying well hydrated. One should avoid performing strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day. If feeling weak or experiencing muscle cramps, the individual should stop their activity and just try cooling down. Also, medications like stimulants, diuretics, and sedatives which can increase the risk of heat stroke should only be taken after consulting a doctor. Taking appropriate preventive measures, can help protect one from heat stroke, control the length for which heat stroke lasts and also reduce the lingering effects of heat stroke.

What is the Prognosis of Heat Stroke?

If effective treatment is administered quickly, many people can recover from heat stroke with little or no problems, although some can become more sensitive to hot weather. As regards, how long does heat stroke last, is related to the severity and overall health condition of the person. Initial recovery takes around 1-2 days in the hospital, and longer if organ damage is detected. Complete recovery from heat stroke and its effects on the internal organs, with any lingering effects of heat stroke can take 2 to 12 months. However, as complications increase, the prognosis declines rapidly. The brain and other organs can get permanently damaged and cause long term effects on the individual’s health. Damage is caused by swelling from heating and other mechanisms, so the prognosis in these patients can range from fair to poor.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 20, 2019

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