The recent passing of Rugby League star Kato Ottio aged 23, due to a lethal heat stroke calls out for us to start giving attention to the severe and sometimes lethal effects of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Ottio represented the Papua New Guinean national team, most notably at the 2017 World Cup. It is said that Ottio started showing the symptoms during his training and he was rushed to Gerehu General Hospital. Despite all the efforts, his condition worsened because his heart, liver, and kidney were already affected. Although the problem of heat stroke is generally treated as a minor condition, people fail to realise how serious the effects that it can cause are.
So what really is a heat stroke?
A heat stroke is a medical condition that occurs when the body gets overheated and the various mechanisms of the body are unable to cool it down without obtaining external help. A heat stroke can occur on continuous exposure to temperatures of more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degree Celsius). A heat stroke needs emergency medical treatment, in order to prevent permanent damage to the heart, brain, kidneys or the muscles.
Symptoms of a heat stroke
The signs and symptoms of a heat stroke include the following:
- Excessive body cramps: heat cramps, usually cramps in the abdomen or the legs, are the first signs of a heat stroke.
- High body temperature: a high body temperature of around 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degree Celsius) is a primary red flag indicating the onset of a heat stroke.
- Flushed Skin: your skin may turn red as the temperature of your body increases owing to a heat stroke. In extreme cases, the skin gets leathery and cracks, even leading to bleeding in some cases.
- Nausea and Vomiting may also be experienced.
- Alteration in sweating is another symptom that is noticed before or during a heat stroke.
- Altered behaviour or state of mind: agitation, irritability, confusion, slurred speech, seizures, delirium or sometimes even coma can all be results of a heat stroke.
- Multiple Organ Disorder: in cases of extreme heat stroke, the core body temperature increases to dangerously high levels, resulting in multiple organ failure owing to lack of immediate medical attention to bring the body temperature down.
- Heat stroke and DIC (Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation): in extreme cases of heat stroke, the coagulation process in the body is affected, resulting in bleeding from several orifices in the body. Infusing the patient’s body with Blood plasma is effective in stemming the bleeding in this case.
- Headache: you may experience a throbbing headache when you have a heat stroke.
- Loss of consciousness has been observed in several cases
- Increased heart rate: as long as the air around your body is cooler than your body, you radiate heat into the air. However, as the temperature of your body increases, while you experience a heat stroke, this transfer of heat stops. Radiation of heat calls for rerouting blood flow to the skin, thus making more blood flow to the skin. This makes the heart beat faster and work harder when you experience a heat stroke, thus leading to an increase in the heart rate.
- Change in breathing: a person suffering from a heat stroke begins to experience erratic breathing patterns and may start feeling suffocated.
Causes of Heatstroke
There are two major causes of a heat stroke, which include the following:
- Strenuous Activity: heat stroke due to strenuous activity, also known as exertional heat stroke, is caused by an increase in the core body temperature, caused due to an extensive physical activity performed in a hot environment.
- Exposure to the hot environment: in the classic or normal type of heat stroke, just staying in a hot environment can lead to an increase in the core body temperature, leading to a heat stroke. This type of heat stroke generally occurs due to prolonged exposure to a hot and humid environment.
No matter the type of heatstroke, the main reasons for its onset include the following:
- Dehydration: the biggest reason for a heat stroke is dehydration. Not drinking enough water in order to replenish the fluids lost due to sweating, is a big cause of a heat stroke.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol: drinking too much alcohol may decrease your body’s ability to regulate temperature. Combine this with exposure to a hot and humid environment, and you have perfectly set yourself up to suffer a heat stroke.
- Excessive clothing: wearing excessive clothing while living in a hot and humid environment prevents sweat from evaporating easily, thus leading to a dangerous increase in the body temperature.
Treatment of a heat stroke
- The foremost action that is to be taken when you or someone around you is having a heat stroke is to shift the affected person to a cooler area, preferably in a shade.
- Call your country’s emergency medical helpline number and call for help as quickly as you can.
- Remove as much clothing from the affected person’s body as possible and apply cool, wet packs or clothes to his/her body in order to help lower the affected person’s body temperature.
- Applying ice packs to the affected person’s body is a great idea. Look for one, if available.
- If the affected person is in a conscious state, have them drink a lot of water and/or other fluids like coconut water, if available. Stay away from caffeinated or fizzy drinks, though.
- In case you are in an area where none of the above listed sophisticated equipment or items are available, simply pick up a garden hose, a cool water sponge, a tub of cool water etc. – any item that you think will help bring down the temperature of the affected person’s body.
- Once the patient is treated by a healthcare professional, he/she might have to stay only in cooler areas in order to avoid a relapse.
NOTE: You must never use ice for elderly patients, children, people suffering from chronic conditions, and for those whose heat stroke occurred without any severe exercise. Using ice can be dangerous for them.
Prevention of heat stroke
A few things when kept in mind, can go a long way in avoiding a heat stroke. These include the following:
- Wear light coloured, loose-fitting and airy clothes.
- Top off with a wide-brimmed hat in order to protect your head and eyes from direct sunlight.
- Keep yourself hydrated. Drink extra fluids. It is generally recommended that your drink at least 8 glasses of water in the day, apart from fruit and vegetable juices, as well as coconut water. This will go a long way in helping you prevent a heat stroke.
- Avoid fluids that contain caffeine or alcohol, as well as fizzy, carbonated drinks. All drinks that fall into these categories make you lose fluids from your body, leading to dehydration.
It is important to follow these instructions to keep all the heat-related illness away. Today, when it comes to a heat stroke, several of us are not well-informed. Therefore, we can all do our bit to prevent this severe problem. Just spread the word, conduct workshops in schools or your office or even a simple email to all your friends and family about all the articles related to them can help.