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Heatstroke Death: Who's at Greatest Risk?

Elders, People Taking Drugs to Treat High Blood Pressure May Be Particularly Vulnerable
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 13, 2007 -- With much of the U.S. sweltering in a heat wave, two new studies show who may be most vulnerable to death from heatstroke or other heat-related illnesses.

Leading that list are older adults -- especially those who can't take care of themselves -- and people taking medications to treat their high blood pressure.

Those findings reinforce health advice to stay out of extreme heat, seek shelter in air-conditioned places, and check in on vulnerable relatives and neighbors.

Before you read the studies' details, take a moment to learn the symptoms of heatstroke and what to do about it.

Warning Signs of Heatstroke

Heatstroke is the most serious heat-related illness. Without emergency medical care, it can kill or leave people permanently disabled.

The CDC's web site states that the warning signs of heatstroke vary but may include the following:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

Heatstroke: What to Do

The CDC offers this advice about what to do if you see someone with heatstroke symptoms:

  • Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the person who has heatstroke symptoms.
  • Get the person to a shady area.
  • Cool the person rapidly, using whatever means you can. For example, immerse them in a tub of cool water, place them in a cool shower, spray them with cool water from a garden hose, or, if the humidity is low, wrap them in a cool, wet sheet and fan them vigorously.
  • Get medial assistance as soon as possible. If emergency personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Don't give the person suffering from heatstroke any fluids to drink.

Heatstroke Deaths

The two new studies, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, are based on previous heat waves in the U.S. and Europe.

One of the studies focuses on the French heat wave of August 2003, in which 14,800 people died of heat-related illnesses.

Laurent Argaud, MD, PhD, and colleagues reviewed the cases of 83 people treated for heatstroke at their hospital in Lyon, France, during the heat wave.

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