Heat Exhaustion: Definition, Causes, Who is at Risk, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

Heat Exhaustion– This is a common medical condition caused as a result of overexposure to heated atmosphere resulting in the body getting overheated. This condition can occur in sportsmen who play in high temperatures and high relative humidity. Heat Exhaustion causes accelerated pulse and profuse sweating due to overheating of the body.

Heat Exhaustion: Definition, Causes, Who is at Risk, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

How Do We Define Heat Exhaustion?

Heat Exhaustion as stated is a medical condition which is caused due to the body getting overheated, usually during summer seasons, causing excessive sweating and accelerated pulse rate. Some of the causes of Heat Exhaustion are overexposure to elevated temperatures and high humidity and performing rigorous physical activity. If Heat Exhaustion is not treated appropriately, it can lead to heatstroke which is a potentially serious condition.

Causes Of Heat Exhaustion

The core temperature of the body is a combination of the body’s internal heat and the external atmospheric temperatures. The body requires maintaining proper balance of heat lost and gained due to external causes to maintain the body’s temperature at a constant level.

In hot and humid weather conditions the body gets rid of the excess heat by way of sweating and the evaporation of sweat helps in temperature regulation; however, during rigorous activity in hot and humid conditions the ability of the body to cool itself becomes less resulting in Heat Exhaustion.

Besides Being Exposed To Hot And Humid Weather, Some Of The Other Causes Of Heat Exhaustion Are:

  • Dehydration
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Using clothing which hamper appropriate evaporation of sweat.

Risk Factors For Heat Exhaustion

Anyone can develop heat exhaustion, but certain factors increase your sensitivity to heat. They include:

  • Infants and the elderly people are at increased risk for Heat Exhaustion as their body’s ability to regulate temperature is not at its optimum.
  • Certain medications like antihypertensives, beta blockers, or antihistamines compromise the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Recreational drugs also affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
  • Obesity also increases the risk of Heat Exhaustion.
  • Inappropriate acclimatization to hot and humid weather can also increase the risk of Heat Exhaustion.

Signs And Symptoms Of Heat Exhaustion

Diagnosis of Heat Exhaustion

To diagnose Heat Exhaustion, the treating physician will take a detailed history and will ask questions like:

  • How hot and humid the weather was at the time of onset of symptoms.
  • How long have the symptoms been going on
  • Whether air circulation was appropriate
  • Whether the individual is acclimatized to the weather

A physical examination will show elevated pulse rate and low blood pressures. There may also be presence of orthostatic hypotension in case of Heat Exhaustion.

Treatment For Heat Exhaustion

Majority Of The Cases Of Heat Exhaustion Can Be Controlled By Following The Below Mentioned Steps:

  • Rest In Cool Place: This helps the body regulate temperature better. One should make sure that the legs are elevated above the level of the heart.
  • Drink Adequate Fluids: Drinking fluids rich in electrolytes increase hydration of the body and allow the body to regulate temperature better.
  • Try and take a cool shower to make the body cool.
  • Wear loose clothes so that there is adequate evaporation of the sweat.

If there is no improvement of symptoms with these measures then the affected individual needs to consult a physician at the earliest.

Prevention of Heat Exhaustion

Some Of The Ways To Prevent Heat Exhaustion Are:

  • One should wear clothes that are loose, especially when out in the heat. Light colored clothing is best as it reflects heat rather than absorbing it and facilitates sweating.
  • One should apply proper sunscreens to protect exposed body from direct rays of the sun.
  • One should stay at a cooler place and avoid going out into the sun, especially in the mid afternoons when the temperature is the hottest. Try and spend time at an air conditioned place.
  • One should drink plenty of fluids, especially rich in electrolytes when out in the sun to keep the body well hydrated. Alcohol needs to be avoided.
  • One should try and not get exposed to excessive heat if he/she is on antihypertensives, beta blockers or antihistamines.
  • Before venturing out in the sun or doing any rigorous activity in the heat, one should make sure that body has been acclimatized to the weather conditions of that place.
  • In case, if an individual cannot avoid performing strenuous activity in the heat, then that individual should make sure that he/she takes frequent breaks to avoid Heat Exhaustion.

Also Read:

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:January 29, 2019

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