Heatstroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness and is a medical emergency. If you suspect that someone has heatstroke – which some people refer to as sunstroke, refer them to a doctor immediately. Heatstroke can kill or cause damage to the brain and other internal organs. Although heatstroke is most common in babies, the elderly and those with long-term medical conditions, it also takes a toll on healthy young physically active people such as athletes. 

Heatstroke often occurs as a progression from milder heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat syncope (fainting) and heat exhaustion. However, it can strike even if you have no previous signs of heat illness. 

Heatstroke results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures – usually in combination with dehydration – which leads to failure of the body’s temperature control system. The medical definition of heatstroke is a core body temperature greater than 41°C, with complications involving the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures. Other common symptoms include nausea, rapid heartbeat, muscle cramps, seizures, confusion, disorientation, cessation of heavy sweating and sometimes loss of consciousness or coma. 

Heatstroke is most likely to affect older people who live in flats or homes lacking good airflow and with inadequately shaded south-facing windows. Other high-risk groups include babies and young children, and people of any age who don’t drink enough water, have chronic diseases, have mental disabilities or who drink excessive amounts of alcohol. People who spend a lot of time being physically active in hot weather are also at greater risk. 

The risk of heat-related illness dramatically increases when the heat index climbs to 26°C or more. So it’s important – especially during heatwaves – to pay attention to the maximum temperature reported in your local weather forecasts and to remember that it will be hotter in the sun than in the shade. 

If you live in an urban area, you may be especially prone to develop heatstroke during a prolonged heatwave, particularly if there are stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. In what is known as the “heat island effect,” asphalt and concrete store heat during the day and only gradually release it at night, resulting in higher night-time temperatures. 

Other risk factors associated with heat-related illness include: 

Age; infants and children up to age four, and adults over 75 years old, are particularly vulnerable because they adjust to heat more slowly than other people. 

Health conditions; these include heart, lung or kidney disease, being obese or underweight, having high blood pressure, diabetes, mental illness, sickle cell trait, alcoholism, sunburn and any conditions that cause fever. 

Medications; these include antihistamines, diet pills, diuretics, sedatives, tranquillizers, stimulants, seizure medications (anticonvulsants), heart and blood pressure medications such as beta-blockers and vasoconstrictors, and medications for psychiatric illnesses such as antidepressants and antipsychotics. Illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine also are associated with increased risk of heatstroke. 

People with diabetes – who are at increased risk of emergency hospital visits, hospitalisation and death from heat-related illness – may be especially likely to underestimate their risk during heat waves. 

Consult with your doctor or healthcare provider to see if your health conditions and medications are likely to affect your ability to cope with extreme heat and humidity. 

When the temperature is high it’s best to stay indoors in a cool room. If you must go outdoors, you can prevent heatstroke by taking these steps: 

Wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. 

Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more. 

Drink extra fluids. To prevent dehydration, it’s generally recommended to drink at least eight glasses of water, fruit juice or vegetable juice per day. Because heat-related illness also can result from salt depletion, it may be advisable to substitute an electrolyte-rich sports drink for water during periods of extreme heat and humidity. 

RAMSHA SAJID,  

Lahore, April 14.