Yes, You Can Be Too Hot

Posted on 2 December 2019

Anyone spending time outdoors in summer expects to get hot. But seemingly insignificant symptoms could mean you’re struggling to regulate your body’s temperature – with potentially serious consequences.

“Heat illness is a broad term and includes minor conditions such as dehydration, heat cramps, fainting and heat exhaustion – as well as the more severe condition known as heat stroke,” says Tiaan Meyer, branch manager for ER24 in Pietermaritzburg.

Dehydration can affect you if you don’t drink enough water during hot weather — especially if you are exercising vigorously. “It occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you ingest, and means that your body doesn’t have enough fluid to function optimally,” Meyer says. “Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, fatigue, dark-coloured urine and confusion. Because you might not feel thirsty until you are already dehydrated, it’s important to drink sufficient water to prevent dehydration when you’re out in the summer sun.”

Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur as a result of dehydration and loss of nutrients and minerals from excessive sweating. They can last from a few minutes to a few hours and are most common in the abdomen, back, arms, or legs. “If you are suffering from heat cramps, stop exercising and move into the shade or a covered area,” Meyer says. “Gently stretch your affected muscles and drink plenty of fluids.”

Heat-related fainting happens when your brain isn’t getting enough blood and oxygen to function normally. (If you’ve been standing for a while in hot weather – as a sport spectator or waiting in a queue, for instance – blood drains away from your brain and downwards into your legs and feet.) This causes dizziness, light-headedness and eventually, fainting. “If you see someone who has fainted from the heat, protect them from the sun and raise their legs to direct the blood flow to the brain,” Meyer says.

Signs that you might be suffering from heat exhaustion include a weak, rapid pulse; excessive sweating; muscle weakness; nausea; dizziness and flushed skin. Lack of sweating may also occur in extreme cases of heat stroke or dehydration. “Get out of the sun immediately and drink plenty of fluids, especially sports drinks, to replace lost electrolytes,” says Meyer. “Remove any tight or unnecessary clothing and, if possible, take a cool shower to reduce your body temperature. If untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.”

“Heat stroke (sunstroke) occurs when your core body temperature rises to 40 degrees Celsius or higher,” says Dr Jennie Bruwer, a general practitioner at Mediclinic Upington. “While your skin might show outward signs of sunburn, sunstroke detrimentally affects your internal organs and is a serious condition. Untreated heatstroke can damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles – and the longer treatment is delayed, the greater your risk of serious complications, coma or death. True heatstroke is a medical emergency and you need to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Treatment includes cooling and other supportive measures” Meyer says.

Published in Emergency

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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