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Heat emergencies

Definition

Heat emergencies or illnesses are caused by exposure to extreme heat and sun. Heat illnesses can be prevented by being careful in hot, humid weather.

Alternative Names

Heatstroke; Heat illness

Causes

Heat injuries can occur due to high temperatures and humidity. You are more likely to feel the effects of heat sooner if:

The following make it harder for the body to regulate the temperature, and make a heat emergency more likely:

Symptoms

Heat cramps are the first stage of heat illness. If these symptoms are not treated, it can lead to heat exhaustion and then heatstroke.

Heat stroke occurs when the body is no longer able to regulate the temperature, and it keeps rising. Heatstroke can cause shock, brain damage, organ failure, and even death.

The early symptoms of heat cramps include:

Later symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

The symptoms of heatstroke include (call 911 or the local emergency number right away):

First Aid

If you think a person may have heat illness or emergency:

  1. Have the person lie down in a cool place. Raise the person's feet about 12 inches.
  2. Apply cool, wet cloths (or cool water directly) to the person's skin and use a fan to lower body temperature. Place cold compresses on the person's neck, groin, and armpits.
  3. If alert, give the person a beverage to sip (such as a sports drink), or make a salted drink by adding a teaspoon of salt per quart of water. Give a half cup every 15 minutes. Cool water will do if salt beverages are not available.
  4. For muscle cramps, give beverages as noted above and massage affected muscles gently, but firmly, until they relax.
  5. If the person shows signs of shock (bluish lips and fingernails and decreased alertness), starts having seizures, or loses consciousness, call 911 and give first aid as needed.

Do Not


When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 if:

Prevention

The first step in preventing heat illnesses is thinking ahead.

To help prevent heat illnesses:

References

Winkenwerder W, Wawka MN. Disorders due to heat and cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 109.

Jardine DS. Heat illness and heat stroke. Pediatr Rev. 2007;28:249-258.

Platt M, Vicario S. Heat illness. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2013:chap 141.



Review Date: 1/13/2014
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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