Mind & Body
How to Handle Heat-Related Problems
6/1/2020 9:57:37 AM
Heat-Related Problems

As temperatures rise, we all feel uncomfortably warm when outdoors, especially in Southwest Louisiana. Perspiration and a slight increase in heart rate are to be expected, but when exposed to high temperatures for an extended amount of time, more severe symptoms could indicate a heat-related illness.

Exposure to excessive heat and humidity can cause serious problems, according to Syed Shah, MD, emergency medicine physician with the Professional Emergency Medical Management Group and West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital’s Emergency Department. "In Louisiana, our temperatures are high and the heat is intense for several months. That’s difficult enough, but when you figure in the humidity and how that affects the body, it can lead to problems,” Dr. Shah said.

These problems include heat cramps, which can progress to heat exhaustion and finally heat stroke. Those most at risk are children and older adults, as well as people who work outdoors in excessive heat and high humidity without relief or adequate fluid intake. Students who participate in outdoor sports, marching band, or other activities during the summer are also at an increased risk. 

The first signal of a heat-related problem is a heat cramp, usually in the back of the legs or in the arms; they can also occur in the abdomen and back. A heat cramp feels more intense than a typical cramp and usually lasts longer. "The usual cause of a heat cramp is not drinking enough water while being active in the heat,” said Dr. Shah.  

To treat heat cramps, Dr. Shah advises:

Stopping the activity and resting in a shaded or cooler location

Drinking clear juice or an electrolyte-containing sports drink

Gently massaging the muscle group

"Generally, heat cramps will dissipate after resting,” Dr. Shah explained. "Once they’re gone, continue resting for several hours. If they don’t subside after several hours, check with your doctor.”

Beyond heat cramps, the more severe heat-related concern is heat exhaustion. After excessive perspiration, intense exercise and inadequate fluid or salt intake, the body exhibits these symptoms:

Feeling faint or dizzy


Rapid, weak heartbeat

Low blood pressure


When these symptoms are present, Dr. Shah recommends this first-aid treatment for heat exhaustion:

Rest in a cooler location

Lay the person down and elevate the legs and feet slightly

Remove any tight or heavy clothing or sports equipment they may be wearing

Encourage them to drink cool water

Sponge or spray them with cool water to reduce their temperature

"Monitor the individual carefully because heat exhaustion can quickly turn into heat stroke,” he said. The most severe of the heat-related illnesses is heat stroke. The body’s natural reaction to heat is to perspire; during a heat stroke, the body’s ability to perspire is gone. Without this natural cooling ability, the body’s internal temperature continues to rise. In fact, the main sign of heat stroke is an elevated body temperature, usually 104° F or higher. 

As with the other heat-related concerns, young children and older adults are particularly vulnerable to heat stroke, but also at risk are individuals with cardiovascular disease. Certain medications can also increase a person’s tolerance to heat because they affect the body’s ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat. Medications that narrow blood vessels, also known as vasoconstrictors, those that regulate blood pressure by blocking adrenaline, known as beta-blockers, and those that rid the body of sodium and water, or diuretics, can decrease one’s ability to tolerate heat. 

"In addition to these risk factors, individuals who are quite overweight or individuals who are engaged in intense exercise but are not in good physical shape are at an increased risk for heat stroke,” Dr. Shah explained.

Heat stroke symptoms include:

Cessation of sweating

Irritability or confusion

Rapid and shallow breathing


The first-aid treatment for heat stroke includes:

Moving the person out of the sun and into a cooler space

Calling 911

Lowering their temperature by placing cool cloths on them or sponging them with cool water

If the person is conscious, having them drink cool water

"Because the temperatures in our area rise to above 100° F with high humidity, it is important for all of us to be familiar with the basic symptoms of heat-related illnesses and know how to give first-aid,” said Dr. Shah. 

For those who have a reason to be active in excessive heat, be aware of how you feel during the activity. If you experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke symptoms, stop the activity, get to a cooler place, and notify someone immediately. 

Posted by: Christine Fisher | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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