Heat Stroke and Your Health

Recently, the Ministry of Health Malaysia reported five cases of heat-related illnesses (28 April 2023), two cases were reported in Kelantan that led to the deaths of two children due to severe dehydration and heat stroke, and the other three cases were reported in Sarawak involving two cases of heat cramps and one case of heat exhaustion.

Heat-related illnesses are due to exposure to abnormal or prolonged amounts of heat and humidity without relief or adequate fluid intake. Heat-related illnesses usually start with heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

What is meant by heat stroke?

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat-related illness. It is caused by a rapid increase in body temperature. Heat stroke is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures or doing strenuous physical activity in a hot environment. It is considered an emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

It occurs when our body fails to regulate temperature effectively. It leads to a sudden increase in body temperature to a dangerous temperature level, the body temperature can rise up to 40 degrees Celsius.

It can also be caused by exposure to hot weather especially when combined with high humidity, and when we do heavy physical activity without drinking enough water.

There are other factors that can increase the risk of heat stroke, especially among the elderly and children, those who have chronic diseases, those who are dehydrated, and also those who use alcohol or certain medicines.

What are the signs and symptoms of heat stroke?

Symptoms of heat stroke faced can vary such as:

  • High body temperature (usually above 40 degrees Celsius)
  • Altered mental state or confusion
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Dizziness and vomiting
  • Red, hot and dry skin (less sweating)
  • Breathing is fast and shallow
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • in Severe cases, it can result in convulsions or loss of consciousness, and even death

What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Heat Stroke, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Cramps are heat-related illnesses. Heat Cramps are the first stage, followed by heat exhaustion, the 2nd stage and heat stroke, the 3rd stage.

Heat cramps are the mildest of the three heat-related conditions. This is followed by heat exhaustion. Those who experience heat cramps will have symptoms of painful muscle cramps that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating.

Heat exhaustion is worse than heat cramps and results from the loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate water and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool down properly and, if left untreated, can turn into heat stroke.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, feeling thirsty, profuse sweating, increased body temperature, and decreased urination.

Can heat stroke occur only during prolonged hot weather?

Heat stroke can occur in hot weather conditions but not necessarily only in prolonged hot weather conditions. It can happen if we do strenuous exercise and activities in hot weather or in a hot environment and don’t drink enough water. If we do strenuous activities such as exercise and work, we need to drink enough water to avoid dehydration.

Can heat stroke be fatal?

Heat stroke is an emergency and should be treated immediately. If not treated immediately, heat stroke can be fatal.

Treatment of heat stroke requires prompt action to prevent further complications and to ensure the safety of heat stroke patients.

  1. Get emergency medical help immediately.
  2. Move the patient to a cooler area, such as a dim or air-conditioned area. This helps in heat dissipation and allows cooling of the body.
  3. Remove excess clothing: Loosen or remove any unnecessary clothing to help facilitate heat dissipation from the body.
  4. Cool the patient’s body as quickly as possible. This includes:
    • Wet the person’s body with cold water
    • Using a fan to increase air movement around the patient
    • Use an ice pack or cold compression to cool the patient further
  5. If, the heat stroke patient is still conscious, try to give drinking water to the patient.
  6. While we are doing the above activities, we should pay attention to the vital signs of heat stroke patients, this includes breathing, pulse and level of consciousness.

We must remember that heat stroke is a serious condition and immediate medical help is essential.

What are the steps that can be taken to avoid heat stroke?

Preventing heat stroke involves taking precautions to reduce the risks of heat stroke.

Here are some steps you can take to prevent heat stroke:

  1. Make sure we drink enough water, basically, if we do outdoor activities, we must drink enough water.
  2. The amount and colour of urine can be a good indicator to identify signs of dehydration.
    • Urine that is pale and odorless, and that there is a lot of urine is often an indication that the person’s hydration is good.
    • Slightly dark yellow urine can indicate mild dehydration, and the person should drink more water.
    • Medium-dark yellow urine often indicates dehydration, the person needs to drink plenty of water.
    • Darker, strong-smelling urine in small amounts can be a sign of severe dehydration, so the person needs to drink plenty of water.
  3. Dress appropriately: Wear loose, light and brightly coloured clothing that allows air circulation and helps sweat evaporate. Choose breathable fabric.
  4. Find a shady and cool environment
  5. Plan outdoor activities wisely: If you must be outdoors, schedule your activities at cooler times of the day, such as early morning or evening. Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun and try to find a dim area.
  6. Rest yourself and take regular breaks in a cool area, especially during strenuous physical activity or when working in a hot environment.
  7. Expose yourself gradually to a hot environment over time, this allows your body to adapt and become more efficient at regulating temperature. This is especially important if you are travelling in a hot climate.
  8. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.
  9. Be careful with medications: Some medications can increase the risk of heat-related illness. Consult your healthcare provider about possible side effects of your medication related to heat exposure.
  10. Pay attention to weather forecasts and heat advisories in your area. Take necessary precautions if heat waves or high temperatures are expected.
  11. Pay attention to vulnerable individuals: Pay attention to infants, young children, older adults and individuals with chronic illnesses, as they are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Make sure they are adequately hydrated and have access to a cool environment.

By following these preventative measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. It is important to prioritize your well-being and take appropriate steps to stay cool and hydrated in a hot environment.

This article was written by Victor Hoe. The article was part of the interview on the News Straits Times and Apa Khabar Malaysia – Bernama.

Watch the recorded Live interview session via YouTube.

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