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Heat stroke or heat exhaustion? How to tell the difference

Heat-related illnesses include a spectrum of disorders — heat exhaustion and muscle cramps to more serious medical emergencies such as heat stroke.

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While the heatwaves have abated slightly, there is every possibility that the temperatures will soar again. (Reuters)

Since March, there have been nearly 30 heatwave days, with nearly four spells in a little over a month and a half. While the heatwaves have abated slightly, there is every possibility that the temperatures will soar again. As a result, it becomes necessary to be protected from the heat and know the different types of illnesses that it can cause.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF HEAT-RELATED ILLNESSES

Heat-related illnesses include a spectrum of disorders — heat exhaustion and muscle cramps to more serious medical emergencies such as heat stroke. These illnesses occur when the regulation of the body temperature is disrupted due to heat input from the environment and increased body metabolism compared with output from the skin — via evaporation, radiation, and convection.

HEAT CRAMPS

During heat cramps, patients experience involuntary, painful, spasmodic contractions of skeletal muscle in the thighs, calves, and shoulders. In such a situation, doctors usually advise patients to rest in a relaxed environment. The Union Health Ministry has also recommended fluid and (oral) salt replacement.

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HEAT EXHAUSTION

When the patient experiences the following symptoms, the condition is referred to as heat exhaustion. In case treatment fails, it could progress to a heatstroke.

— Headache, nausea, vomiting
— Malaise, dizziness
— Muscle cramps

In such a situation, the Union Health Ministry suggests removing the patient from the heat stress area. If the patient doesn’t respond to treatment within 30 minutes, they should be ‘aggressively’ cooled to a core temperature of 39°C.

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HEAT STROKE AND ITS TREATMENT

If the body temperature rises above 40°C and shows signs of Central Nervous System dysfunction such as seizures, delirium, confusion, and coma, a person may be experiencing a heat stroke. Such a person, according to the Union Health Ministry’s recommendations, should be removed from the heat stress area and aggressively cooled down to a core body temperature of 39°C.

(The above article is only for information purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. Always seek the guidance of a doctor or other qualified health professional for questions regarding health or a medical condition.)

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