Monday, May 12, 2014

Heat stroke!

Advice - Mind, Body and Family, May '14
By Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta

Remember the good old days of summer vacations? It was all fun except the holiday homework. With the earth warming up every day, summer holidays have become more of a necessity than fun.

Global warming has paved the way for a deadly environmental disease – heat stroke. While most of us have heard of the term, not many of us clearly understand what it implies.

Heat stroke is not ‘stroke’ in true sense of the medical term. The word stroke refers to a lack of blood flow or a state of bleeding inside the brain. In heat stroke, there is no such blood flow disorder in brain. However, the affected individual can become unconscious by other mechanisms.

Heat stroke refers to an inability of the body to cool down after exposure to heat. Our body temperature rises when we are exposed to a hot environment. But it is promptly brought down by many mechanisms, particularly sweating. High body temperature stimulates sweat secretion; the sweat evaporates and takes away surface heat in the process.

This machinery may fail if the sweat secretion stops, evaporation of sweat becomes slow due to humidity, or the heat exposure is just too much for the body to handle. Sweating can also become low because of some medications, or when we are dehydrated. Under such situations if we work under the sun for long hours, our body temperature can shoot high.

Closed spaces like a car without air-conditioning (even with the windows partly open) can have a temperature double the outside temperature in summer months. Children, old individuals and pets are at a higher risk for heat stroke as they may not be able to move on their own to cooler places or express themselves verbally.

Beat the heat with . . .
Photo credits: Pawan Dhall

How do we recognize the symptoms of heat stroke? The patient will have a very high body temperature – around 105 degrees Fahrenheit or more. The urine will be scanty and dark colored, and the skin will be dry (may be moist in humid weather). The pulse may be rapid and in severe cases, consciousness may be altered.

At the first identification of these symptoms, the patient has to be physically cooled. The body may be sponged with cold water or the patient may be given a cold water bath. It is important to rehydrate the person with plenty of water or isotonic drinks (drinks diluted with salt and sugar). Heat stroke is not the same as fever; drugs like paracetamol are not useful.

It is best to prevent this notorious disease with simple measures. Remember to carry an umbrella when under the sun. Avoid exertion in summer months under the sun or in very humid weather. Drink plenty of fluids. Wear loose cotton clothes to allow perspiration. And in the event of a stroke, remember to start the basic treatment before medical help arrives.

Some of you might wonder if having sex in summer can also lead to heat stroke. Sexual activities do generate a lot of heat by burning calories. But there is really no restriction on sex unless it is performed under the scorching midday sun in a dehydrated state.

Make the most of the summers. But remember to play safe!

Confused? Disturbed? Just inquisitive? Write in any query on the mind, body and family to, and Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta, teaching faculty at a Kolkata-based medical college, will be happy to answer them – with due respect to confidentiality.

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