When we talk about heat stroke, we are referring to the consequences that the body may experience if it reaches a temperature above 40 degrees Celsius. This is a condition that should not be underestimated and on which prompt action must be taken. 

We talked about how to prevent heat stroke and what are the strategies to put in place in case it arises with Professor Raffaello Furlan, head of Clinica Medica in Humanitas and professor at Humanitas University.

Heat Stroke: Prevention and Treatment

When discussing heat stroke, we refer to the consequences the body may face when its temperature exceeds 40 °C. Understanding that this situation demands urgent attention and prompt action is crucial. But what exactly is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a condition that occurs when the body’s mechanisms for cooling down fail to work correctly. Although anyone can get heat stroke, it is most dangerous for children and those over 65. It is essential to pay attention to the symptoms of heat stroke, as they can lead to serious complications for the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. In severe cases, heat stroke can even be fatal, with complications such as shock resulting from a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Causes of Heat Stroke

The leading causes of heat stroke are extremely high temperatures in humid climates, which pose a significant risk, especially for the elderly and individuals with chronic illnesses. Engaging in intense physical activity in hot and humid environments, which inhibits proper heat dispersion caused by motor activity, can also be risky.

Symptoms and Prevention

Heat stroke can be identified by a body temperature above 40°C, accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, skin redness, loss of sweat production, accelerated breathing or heart rate, headache, muscle cramps, weakness, confusion, and even loss of consciousness.

To prevent heat stroke, it is essential to follow some simple steps:

  • Stay adequately hydrated by drinking water.
  • Avoid wearing heavy clothing.
  • Wear light-colored clothing when you are out in the sun.
  • Be cautious of high temperatures, especially if taking medications that affect your body’s hydration levels (e.g., diuretics).
  • Never leave children unattended in a car in the sun, even briefly.
  • Avoid exercising in the sun and during the hottest hours of the day.
  • If you are not used to hot weather, allow your body to adjust gradually.

It is worth noting that sweating can be trained. Studies have shown that exercising outdoors gradually reduces the amount of mineral salts excreted through sweat while increasing overall sweat production. For instance, during a training period in an extremely hot environment (like the Nevada desert), it has been observed that the body can lose more than 10 liters of fluids, including through sweating, within 24 hours.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In most cases, the symptoms are sufficient to diagnose heat stroke. However, in less severe cases, a physician may conduct further investigations. Blood tests can examine hematocrit electrolyte levels (magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride), assess kidney function, and rule out muscle damage. Additionally, urine examination (which appears darker in heat stroke due to increased concentration) helps evaluate kidney function.

Remember, seeking immediate medical assistance is essential in the event of heat stroke. Meanwhile, focus on reducing the patient’s body temperature with the following steps:

  • Move the individual to a shaded area and remove any excess clothing.
  • Apply cold compresses to the neck, head, underarms, and groin.
  • Spray water on the body to facilitate heat evaporation and decrease skin temperature.