Michiganders are no strangers to hot summers but they may be unfamiliar with the hazards that accompany the high temperatures.
Some of the most dangerous possibilities associated with high summer temperatures are heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
“Heat stroke is a very serious, potentially life-threatening condition caused when the brain is unable to control the body’s cooling system,” said Family Medicine Physician Scott Ross, M.D. “This causes the body’s temperature to rise which can result in damage to the brain and other vital organs.”
The body naturally generates heat as a result of normal bodily functions, but heat is usually dissipated by the evaporation of sweat. Yet, in extreme heat or humidity, the body is sometimes unable to do this and creates more heat than can be released. Therefore, the cooling system of the body becomes overwhelmed and the temperature of the body can rise to unusually high levels, causing hyperthermia.
“This is why hydration and drinking water is so important,” said Dr. Ross. “If more water is ingested the body can sweat more and cool itself down.”
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are both forms of hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), but heat stroke is a more dangerous condition, and unlike heat exhaustion, should be considered a serious medical emergency.
“Heat stroke can quickly lead to a heart attack and death, but it can also cause long term organ damage such as kidney damage, heart damage, and brain damage which can also lead to death,” continued Dr. Ross.
Heat exhaustion is often the precursor to heat stroke. It is not considered a medical emergency in this stage but can often lead to the more serious heat stroke if left alone. If anyone feels nausea, dizziness, muscle cramping, or a headache while exposed to intense heat they could be experiencing heat exhaustion and Dr. Ross advises them to get out of the heat and to drink some water. If the body temperature rises above 104 F, or if coma or seizure occurs, then they may be experiencing heat stroke.
“Both heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be caused simply by prolonged exposure to heat over a couple of days, but are more commonly caused by exertion or a high amount of physical activity over a couple of hours,” said Dr. Ross. Those interested in more information on how to avoid heat related illnesses are encouraged to speak to their physician.