April 17, 2010

Heatstroke/Sunstroke - Part 2

Part 2 - Causes

Sunstroke results from a failure in your body's cooling system. When its cooling system fails, your body is overwhelmed by excess heat; this is when sunstroke occurs. Anything that disrupts your body's thermostat can increase the likelihood of sunstroke. These may include such factors as underlying medical conditions, medications, physical characteristics, or age.

Dehydration contributes to sunstroke. Dehydration happens when your body excretes more water than it takes in. For example, increased water loss through excessive urination is a common side effect of caffeine, alcohol, and many prescription and over-the-counter medications. When the water supply in your body is low, cells begin to pull water from the bloodstream, forcing organs to work harder. Dehydration can also affect the skin's ability to cool the body efficiently. The heart must pump an adequate supply of blood to the skin in order for the skin to cool the body. When you are dehydrated, the blood's volume is reduced, so the cooling process becomes less effective. The taxing effect on the body escalates into the symptoms of heat-related illness.

Prolonged exposure to the sun contributes to sunstroke. When body fluids are not adequately replenished, sun exposure can cause rapid dehydration. Even on mild or overcast days, the sun can have dangerous health effects. The heat index is a measure calculated by the National Weather Service. It indicates how hot it "feels" outside in the shade when both the air temperature and the relative humidity are considered. In the direct sun, the heat index rises even higher. The following heat indices are associated with these heat-related conditions:

80°F-90°F: Fatigue possible after prolonged physical activity or sun exposure.

90°F-105°F: Heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and sunstroke possible after prolonged physical activity or sun exposure.

105°F-130°F: Heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and sunstroke likely after prolonged physical activity or sun exposure.

130°F and higher: Sunstroke likely with sustained exposure to the sun.

If heat exhaustion is not promptly taken care of, it can quickly progress to heat stroke. Heat stroke is a more urgent matter and is a medical emergency. Symptoms can include warm, flushed skin, little or no sweating, and an extremely high body temperature. Confusion, loss of consciousness, or seizures may also occur. A call to 911 is the best way to get help fast.

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