Heat emergencies fall into three categories of increasing severity: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.
Heat illnesses are easily preventable by taking precautions in hot weather.
Children, elderly, and obese people have a higher risk of developing heat illness. People taking certain medications or drinking alcohol also have a higher risk. However, even a top athlete in superb condition can succumb to heat illness if he or she ignores the warning signs.
If the problem isn't addressed, heat cramps (caused by loss of salt from heavy sweating) can lead to heat exhaustion (caused by dehydration), which can progress to heatstroke. Heatstroke, the most serious of the three, can cause shock, brain damage, organ failure, and even death.
Heat emergencies are caused by prolonged exposure to extreme heat. The following are common causes of heat emergencies:
The early symptoms of heat illness include:
Later symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
The symptoms of heatstroke include:
Call 911 if:
Jardine DS. Heat illness and heat stroke. Pediatr Rev. 2007;28:249-258.
Platt M, Vicario S. Heat illness. In: Marx JA, HockbergerRS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 139.
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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