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Heat Stroke: Symptoms and Treatment

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Risk Factors for Heat Stroke continued...

Other risk factors associated with heat-related illness include:

Age. Infants and children up to age 4, and adults over age 65, are particularly vulnerable because they adjust to heat more slowly than other people.

Health conditions. These include heart, lung, or kidney disease, obesity or underweight, 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, tranquilizers, 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 heat stroke.

People with diabetes -- who are at increased risk of emergency room visits, hospitalization, and death from heat-related illness -- may be especially likely to underestimate their risk during heat waves, according to a recent study presented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting by researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Weather Service.

Check with your doctor to see if your health conditions and medications are likely to affect your ability to cope with extreme heat and humidity.

Preventing Heat Stroke

When the heat index is high, it's best to stay in an air-conditioned environment. If you must go outdoors, you can prevent heat stroke by taking these steps:

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, 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.
  • Take additional precautions when exercising or working outdoors.The general recommendation is to drink 24 ounces of fluid two hours before exercise, and consider adding another 8 ounces of water or sports drink right before exercise. During exercise, you should consume another 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes, even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • Reschedule or cancel outdoor activity. If possible, shift your time outdoors to the coolest times of the day, either early morning or after sunset.

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