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When You're Hot, You're Hot -- Maybe Too Hot?

June 28, 2007
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Keeping cool on hot, humid summer days is good advice for more reasons than sheer comfort. It's vital for good health -- even for staying alive.

That's the message from the Pennsylvania Medical Society, warning young and old alike that heat stroke is a deadly illness to be avoided at all costs, even if it means sacrificing a day at the beach.

There have been several highly publicized reports of athletes dying from heat stroke in recent years, most notably Minnesota Viking Korey Stringer, who died six summers ago after developing multi-organ system failure. Players at high school and college levels fell victim in recent years as well.

However, you don't need to be an athlete to be felled by heat stroke.

Marilyn J. Heine, M.D., an emergency physician in Bucks County and a member of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, tells the story of a 78-year-old woman who was transported by ambulance to the emergency department after a neighbor noticed she hadn't been out of her apartment for two days.

During that time, the temperature surpassed 90 degrees, and the humidity was stifling.

The woman was dehydrated, with a temperature of 104.7 degrees and a decreased blood pressure of 100/70. Fortunately, she was resuscitated with intravenous fluids and then hospitalized.

What exactly is heat stroke? It's defined as an injury to internal organs caused by an excessively high body temperature. It can damage the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and other organs. Sometimes, as in Stringer's case, the outcome can be death.

Two types of heat stroke exist, and everyone is susceptible to it, athletes and couch potatoes alike. Classic or non-exercise-induced heat stroke affects those exposed to extremely hot environments for an intolerable length of time. Exertional or activity-induced heat stroke is the other.

Football players -- who wear body-covering uniforms and practice in the hottest temperatures -- are especially prone to dehydration and heat stroke.

How can you predict when the heat is most likely to take its toll? Relative humidity of at least 70 percent and a temperature of 95 degrees and up are your first warning signs.

Also, be alert to other heat-related afflictions, including heat cramps; headache; dizziness; nausea; increased heart rate; low blood pressure; elevated temperature; and profuse sweating.

Any of these can be precursors to a full-blown case of heat stroke. 

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