Hyperthermia and Heat Exposure

Warm weather and outdoor activity generally go hand in hand. However, it is important for older people to take action to avoid the severe health problems often caused by hot weather. “Hyperthermia” is the general name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses. The two most common forms of hyperthermia are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

A person with symptoms including headache, nausea, and fatigue after exposure to heat probably has some measure of a heat-related illness. It is important to recognize the difference between the very serious condition known as heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.

  • Heat stress occurs when a strain is placed on the body as a result of hot weather.
  • Heat fatigue is a feeling of weakness brought on by high outdoor temperature. Symptoms include cool, moist skin and a weakened pulse. The person may feel faint.
  • Heat syncope is sudden dizziness experienced after exercising in the heat. The skin appears pale and sweaty but is generally moist and cool. The pulse may be weakened, and the heart rate is usually rapid. Body temperature is normal.
  • Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs following strenuous activity. The skin is usually moist and cool and the pulse is normal or slightly raised. Body temperature is mostly normal. Heat cramps often are caused by a lack of salt in the body, but salt replacement should not be considered without advice from a physician.
  • Heat exhaustion is a warning that the body is getting too hot. The person may be thirsty, giddy, weak, uncoordinated, nauseous and sweating profusely. The body temperature is usually normal and the pulse is normal or raised. The skin is cold and clammy. Although heat exhaustion often is caused by the body’s loss of water and salt, salt supplements should only be taken with advice from a doctor.
  • Heat stroke can be LIFE-THREATENING! Immediate medical attention is essential when problems first begin. A person with heat stroke has a body temperature above 104° F. Other symptoms may include confusion, combativeness, bizarre behavior, faintness, staggering, strong rapid pulse, dry and flushed skin, lack of sweating, possible delirium or coma.

Persons experiencing any of these symptoms should consult a doctor. If the victim is exhibiting signs of heat stroke, seek emergency assistance immediately. Without medical attention, heat stroke is frequently deadly – especially for older people.