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Heat Exhaustion: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment And Prevention

Heat exhaustion is defined as a heat-related illness that can occur after being exposed to high temperatures. This develops when your body responds to external factors such as high temperature. Commonly reported in individuals who spent a lot of time outdoors such as athletes and outdoor workers, heat exhaustion can happen to anyone.

Babies, small children, and older adults are more susceptible to heat exhaustion. It can also occur if you are sitting in a hot car or any indoor area without proper air circulation. Less severe than heat stroke, heat exhaustion is often accompanied by dehydration [1] . However, a lack of attention can worsen the condition and cause heatstroke, which can result in brain and other vital organ damage and even death [2] .

Types Of Heat Exhaustion

  • Water depletion: This type of heat exhaustion is caused by a reduction in the levels of water in your body. Specific signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.
  • Salt depletion: It is caused when your body loses salt without any replacement and specific symptoms include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness [3] .

Symptoms Of Heat Exhaustion

The most common signs of the condition are as follows [4] :

  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Pale skin
  • Weak, rapid pulse

7 Signs That Your Body Is Overheating And Ways To Manage It

Causes Of Heat Exhaustion

The condition occurs when your body temperature increases excessively and your body is not able to cool yourself down quickly. Common during the summer season, the heat exhaustion can also occur in high humidity combined with high temperatures. Another common cause of heat exhaustion is sitting in a hot car with no air conditioning. Heat exhaustion develops when your body is excessively active in hot climates and or when you exercise strenuously in hot, humid weather [5] .

Some of the other causes of heat exhaustion are dehydration, alcohol use and overdressing.

Risk Factors Of Heat Exhaustion

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Sudden temperature changes [6]
  • A high heat index
  • Certain drugs such as the ones used for high blood pressure, heart problems, allergies etc.
  • Have a physical job that requires strenuous activities or wearing heavy, protective clothing in hot environments

Complications Of Heat Exhaustion

In the absence or lack of timely care, heat exhaustion can cause heatstroke. Heatstroke can cause damage to your brain and other vital organs and also death [7] .

Diagnosis Of Heat Exhaustion

A medical expert will be able to quickly understand if you are having heat exhaustion. If your doctors suspect your heat exhaustion may have progressed to heatstroke, you may need additional tests, such as the following [8] :

  • Urine test to check your kidney function and to check the concentration and composition of your urine
  • Muscle function tests to check for damage in the muscle tissues
  • X-rays and other imaging to check for damage to your internal organs
  • A blood test to check for low blood sodium or potassium and the content of gases in your blood

Heat Intolerance: Causes, Symptoms, Complications, Treatment And Prevention

Treatment For Heat Exhaustion

Mostly, you can treat the condition by yourself through the following measures [9] :

  • Drink cool fluids
  • Rest in a cool and shaded place
  • Take a cool shower, soak in a cool bath or put towels soaked in cool water on your skin
  • Loosen your clothing

If one does not feel better even after carrying out the aforementioned steps, get medical attention. A doctor may carry out the following steps to manage the symptoms of heatstroke [10] :

  • Use evaporation cooling techniques
  • Give medications
  • Pack you with ice and cooling blankets
  • Carry out water immersion

Prevention Of Heat Exhaustion

There are various ways through which one can prevent the onset of heat exhaustion and they are as follows [11] [12] :

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Take extra precautions with certain medications
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-coloured and lightweight clothing
  • Use sunscreen lotions with an SPF 30 of at least 15 (reapply every two hours)
  • Do not sit in a parked car (especially when parked under the sun)
  • Limit time spent working or exercising in heat until you're conditioned to it
  • Avoid fluids containing either caffeine or alcohol
View Article References
  1. [1] Canpolat, U., Bayazit, Y., & Aytemir, K. (2017). Brugada syndrome unmasked by heat exhaustion. Annals of Noninvasive Electrocardiology, 22(1), e12356.
  2. [2] Ho, S. L. (2019). Managing heat exhaustion in primary care. Prevention, 10, 00.
  3. [3] Crowe, J., Nilsson, M., Kjellstrom, T., & Wesseling, C. (2015). Heat‐Related symptoms in sugarcane harvesters. American journal of industrial medicine, 58(5), 541-548.
  4. [4] Gaudio, F. G., & Grissom, C. K. (2016). Cooling methods in heat stroke. The Journal of emergency medicine, 50(4), 607-616.
  5. [5] Hopp, S., Dominici, F., & Bobb, J. F. (2018). Medical diagnoses of heat wave-related hospital admissions in older adults. Preventive medicine, 110, 81-85.
  6. [6] Jung, I., Choi, S. Y., Kim, H. J., & Kim, J. S. (2017). Delayed vestibulopathy after heat exposure. Journal of neurology, 264(1), 49-53.
  7. [7] Srinivasan, K., Maruthy, K. N., Venugopal, V., & Ramaswamy, P. (2016). Research in occupational heat stress in India: Challenges and opportunities. Indian journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 20(2), 73.
  8. [8] Székely, M., Carletto, L., & Garami, A. (2015). The pathophysiology of heat exposure. Temperature: Multidisciplinary Biomedical Journal, 2(4), 452.
  9. [9] Pryor, R. R., Roth, R. N., Suyama, J., & Hostler, D. (2015). Exertional heat illness: emerging concepts and advances in prehospital care. Prehospital and disaster medicine, 30(3), 297-305.
  10. [10] Maurya, T., Karena, K., Vardhan, H., Aruna, M., & Raj, M. G. (2015). Effect of heat on underground mine workers. Procedia Earth and Planetary Science, 11, 491-498.
  11. [11] Kenny, G. P., Wilson, T. E., Flouris, A. D., & Fujii, N. (2018). Heat exhaustion. In Handbook of clinical neurology (Vol. 157, pp. 505-529). Elsevier.
  12. [12] Gauer, R., & Meyers, B. K. (2019). Heat-Related Illnesses. American family physician, 99(8).
Story first published: Thursday, November 14, 2019, 19:30 [IST]
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