Understanding Heatstroke: Prevention, Symptoms, and Treatment

As the summer months bring soaring temperatures, it’s crucial to stay informed about the risks associated with extreme heat. One of the most dangerous heat-related conditions is heatstroke. At Santiam Hospital and Clinics, we want to ensure our community understands the severity of heatstroke, how to prevent it, recognize its symptoms, and seek appropriate treatment.

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke, also known as sunstroke, occurs when the body’s temperature regulation system fails due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures or physical exertion in hot environments. It is the most severe form of heat illness and is considered a medical emergency. If not treated promptly, heatstroke can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles, leading to serious complications or even death.

Symptoms of Heatstroke

Recognizing the symptoms of heatstroke is vital for taking quick action. Common signs include:

  • High Body Temperature: A core body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher.
  • Altered Mental State or Behavior: Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures, or coma.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Feeling sick to the stomach or vomiting.
  • Flushed Skin: Skin may become red as body temperature increases.
  • Rapid Breathing: Breathing may become fast and shallow.
  • Racing Heart Rate: A rapid, strong pulse due to the stress of heat on the heart.
  • Headache: Throbbing headache that doesn’t go away.

Preventing Heatstroke

Prevention is always better than cure. Here are some practical steps to minimize the risk of heatstroke:

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Avoid beverages containing caffeine or alcohol, as they can dehydrate you.
  • Wear Appropriate Clothing: Lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing helps keep your body cool.
  • Avoid Peak Sun Hours: Try to stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use Sunscreen: Protect your skin from sunburn, which affects your body’s ability to cool down.
  • Take Breaks: If you must be active outdoors, take frequent breaks in a cool or shaded area.
  • Never Leave Anyone in a Parked Car: This rule applies to pets as well. Even with windows cracked, the temperature inside a car can rise dramatically in minutes.

Treatment for Heatstroke

Immediate treatment for heatstroke is essential. Here’s what to do if you suspect someone has heatstroke:

  • Call 911: Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Contact emergency services immediately.
  • Move to a Cooler Environment: Get the person out of the heat and into a cooler place, preferably air-conditioned.
  • Cool the Person Down: Use whatever means available to cool the person. This can include soaking them with water, applying ice packs to armpits, neck, and groin, or using a cool shower or bath.
  • Monitor Body Temperature: Keep checking the person’s body temperature until it drops to a safer level (below 102°F or 38.9°C).

When to Seek Medical Help

Heatstroke requires professional medical attention. While waiting for emergency services, the above steps can help stabilize the individual. At Santiam Hospital and Clinics, our emergency room staff is trained and equipped to handle heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses efficiently and compassionately.

As temperatures rise, being proactive about heat safety is crucial. By staying hydrated, dressing appropriately, and knowing the signs of heatstroke, you can enjoy a safe and healthy summer. Remember, heatstroke is a serious condition that demands immediate attention. If you or someone around you shows symptoms of heatstroke, don’t hesitate—seek medical help right away.

For more information on staying safe this summer, visit Santiam Hospital and Clinics or contact our healthcare providers. Stay cool, stay safe, and enjoy the sunshine responsibly!