Heat-Related Illnesses - Topic Overview
Often, environmental and physical conditions can make it hard to stay cool. Heat-related illness is often caused or made worse by dehydration and fatigue. Exercising during hot weather, working outdoors, and overdressing for the environment increase your risk. Drinking alcohol also increases your risk of dehydration.
Many medicines increase your risk of a heat-related illness. Some medicines decrease the amount of blood pumped by the heart (cardiac output) and limit blood flow to the skin, so your body is less able to cool itself by sweating. Other medicines can alter your sense of thirst or increase your body's production of heat. If you take medicines regularly, ask your doctor for advice about hot-weather activity and your risk of getting a heat-related illness.
Other things that may increase your risk of a heat-related illness include:
- Age. Babies do not lose heat quickly and they do not sweat effectively. Older adults do not sweat easily and usually have other health conditions that affect their ability to lose heat.
- Obesity. People who are overweight have decreased blood flow to the skin, hold heat in because of the insulating layer of fat tissue, and have a greater body mass to cool.
- Heat waves. People who live in cities are especially vulnerable to illness during a heat wave because heat is trapped by tall buildings and air pollutants, especially if there is a high level of humidity.
- Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart failure, and cancer. These conditions change the way the body gets rid of heat.
- Travel to wilderness areas or foreign countries with high outdoor temperatures and humidity. When you go to a different climate, your body must get used to the differences (acclimate) to keep your body temperature in a normal range.
Most heat-related illnesses can be prevented by keeping the body cool and by avoiding dehydration in hot environments. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to treat mild heat-related illnesses. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke need immediate medical treatment.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.