Where to find it

Mayo Clinic: Google "heatstroke mayo clinic"

MedlinePlus: Google "heat emergencies medlineplus"

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Google "heatstroke statistics CDC"

Merck Manual: Google "heatstroke Merck Manual consumer version"

Q: I am worried about heat stroke, especially with all the hot weather we've been having. Is this a serious condition? How would I recognize it?

A: Every year, an average of 658 people die of heat-related illness in the U.S. Heat-related illness consists of a spectrum of conditions, ranging from heat rash, sunburn and heat cramps — to the more severe heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Heatstroke, also known as sunstroke, is caused by a dramatic elevation in body temperature. It is the result of prolonged exposure to the sun and high temperatures, or physical exertion in such conditions. Dehydration often accompanies and exacerbates heatstroke because the body's normal mechanism for cooling itself (sweating) is compromised. Heatstroke is a potentially fatal medical emergency that requires immediate attention.


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There are a number of signs to look for if you suspect someone has heatstroke. While symptoms vary, the main indicator of heatstroke is a core body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Other signs and symptoms include: absence of sweating, hot and dry red skin, rapid pulse, quick and shallow breathing, headache, nausea and vomiting, agitation, confusion, disorientation, seizures and coma. Without prompt treatment, heatstroke can cause permanent organ damage or death.

Populations most at-risk for heatstroke are the elderly, those with chronic illness, and infants or children. One scenario where heatstroke readily occurs is when an unattended child is left in a locked car, where the inside temperature can quickly rise to dangerous levels — even in moderate weather. Athletes training or competing in hot environments are also at risk, as are military personnel and outdoor laborers. Certain medications, such as vasoconstrictors, beta blockers, diuretics, antidepressants, antipsychotics and stimulants can make people more vulnerable.

If you suspect a person has heatstroke, call 911 immediately. First aid aimed at rapidly cooling the victim should be started while awaiting help. This means quickly getting the person into the shade or an air-conditioned space, removing excess clothing, and applying cool water to the skin by any means possible. Without swift intervention, approximately 80 percent of heatstroke victims die.

There are some measures that can be taken to prevent heatstroke. Stay well-hydrated on hot days, especially when engaging in vigorous physical activities. Limit exertion during the warmest hours of the day. Avoid alcoholic beverages, as they can lead to dehydration. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothes and hats. And never leave children (or pets) in cars on warm or sunny days.

Sue Smith volunteers with the Grillo Center which offers free, confidential research to assist in health understanding and decisions. To use this service, contact us at grillocenter.org, 720-854-7293 or 4715 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder. No research or assistance should be interpreted as medical advice. We encourage informed consultation with a health practitioner.