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Heat exhaustion: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a heat-related stress caused by the prolonged exposure to hot weather and characterized by non-specific clinical features. This is a serious condition but not fatal. However if not managed timely, it may progress to a potentially fatal condition called ‘heat stroke’.

Heat exhaustion: Incidence, age and sex

Heat exhaustion is a common occurrence in the general population. It may affect an individual of any age group. However, it is more frequently seen in adults who constantly work in exposed physical environments, especially in hot and humid weather conditions.

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion: Diagnosis

The clinical features of heat exhaustion are indistinct and include rapid heart rate, giddiness, tiredness, headache, nausea and even vomiting. The skin of the hands and feet may be cold and clammy and exhibit excessive perspiration. Occasionally, an affected individual may exhibit tremors in the hands. History and a quick clinical examination may be sufficient to diagnose the condition. However, the doctor may conduct some investigations to rule out other ailments which exhibit similar symptoms. Such ailments include acute coronary syndrome, vasovagal attack and hypoglycaemia.

Causes and prevention of heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a clinical condition which results from the imbalance of water and electrolytes in one’s body. This is induced by exposure to hot environmental conditions. Physical exertion in such conditions may aggravate the chances of heat exhaustion. Individuals, who are on diuretic medication, have increased water and salt loss from body. Thus, they need to be extra careful while performing any strenuous physical activity.

Heat exhaustion: Complications

Heat exhaustion is a serious condition which may progress to a potentially fatal condition called ‘heat stroke’ which is characterised by mental confusion. Moreover, individuals with heat exhaustion may also experience fainting episode, called as ‘heat syncope’. Very rarely can heat exhaustion lead to coma.

Heat exhaustion: Treatment

Heat exhaustion usually improves with adequate replenishment with fluids which can be either given orally or intravenously. Fluids like cold water or fruit juices are appropriate. It is advisable to avoid alcoholic beverages since they may aggravate dehydration. Adequate rest with legs raised, in a cool environment along with fluid replacement usually improves the condition. Individuals who experience fainting may need immediate medical attention so that monitoring of vital statistics (heart rate, respiratory rate, electrolytes in the blood) can be effectively done along with replacement of fluids. It is important to understand that heat exhaustion is a serious condition which cannot be ignored. If the individual does not improve after being placed in cool environment and after being given adequate fluids, then it is considered a medical emergency which needs dynamic management.