A heat stroke is considered the most severe form of heat injury and needs to be treated as a medical emergency. The condition can cause serious damage to the brain and may even be fatal. It can result from a progression of a milder form of heat injury such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps or a heat syncope. However, a heat stroke may also strike without any prior symptoms of heat injury.
The condition results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures often in collaboration with dehydration, an important factor in regulating internal body temperature. A heat stroke may be brought upon by not replacing lost fluids over a few days or weeks or may happen in a few hours by strenuous exercise on a hot day without drinking plenty of fluids first.
An individual is considered suffering from a heat stroke when the core body temperature reaches higher than 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This spike in body temperature can involve complications in the central nervous system due to the exposure to high external temperatures. At this point, the heat stroke occurs as the body is no longer able to regulate temperatures which keep rising. Heatstroke can cause shock, brain damage, organ failure and even death.
Typically, elderly individuals are more prone to suffer from a heat stroke, but it can also affect young athletes just as easily.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with a heat stroke include the following
While the distinctive feature of a heat stroke may be a high core body temperature, fainting is often the first sign. Also known as a heat syncope, the condition is a fainting episode that occurs due to insufficient blood flow to the brain, causing the person to lose consciousness.
In some cases, the same may also happen due to dehydration. Given insufficient fluid quantities in the body, the total blood volume may become limited and predispose the individual to heat syncope as a result of dehydration. In this condition, too much salt and water are lost through perspiration and are not replaced.
Individuals who suspect being exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods of time need to monitor their fluid intake carefully to avoid getting a heat stroke. Some examples include athletes practicing outdoors or construction workers and people from similar occupations who need to spend a lot of their time out in the sun.