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How fast can heatstroke come on?

Why you need to know signs and symptoms of what comes before it

June 9, 2017

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After a long winter, it can be hard to remember that Minnesota summers get hot – really, really hot. And with these rising temperatures, comes a greater risk of heatstroke. Heatstroke is a medical emergency that can be deadly.

Anyone can be affected by heatstroke. But summer athletes, young children and the elderly are at the highest risk of coming down with a heat-related illness. Certain medicines and alcohol can also put you at higher risk. So talk to your doctor with any questions.

One of the best ways to avoid heatstroke is to know the signs and tips for prevention. Emergency Medicine Staff Physician Marny Benjamin, MD, from Methodist Hospital explains.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Dr. Benjamin: The early signs of a heat illness start with the symptoms of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is the illness that precedes heatstroke. And it, too, is a medical emergency. Watch out for:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sweating
  • Cool and clammy skin
  • Irritability and occasionally confusion

If you’re feeling symptoms of heat exhaustion, go indoors to air-conditioning and drink plenty of cold water. If you’re worried about someone else who may not be able to get indoors, is confused, weak or falling asleep in the heat, call 911.

If heat exhaustion symptoms are not treated, they can turn into the more dangerous and even deadly, heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when the body’s temperature rises over 105 degrees and can no longer cool itself.

The symptoms of heatstroke are neurological in nature. Some signs to look out for include:

  • Hot, dry skin
  • Difficulty walking
  • Poor balance
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Seizures (in severe cases)

How can I avoid heat exhaustion and heatstroke?

Dr. Benjamin: On very, hot humid days, try to stay in an air-conditioned, cool space and cancel outdoor events. If that’s not an option, make sure to:

  • Stay in the shade. This is particularly important when the sun is at its strongest – usually around midday.
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is highly important on all summer days. Each morning, right after waking up, drink 16 ounces of water. Overall you should be aiming for at least 6 to 8 glasses of water every day – or more when you exercise. Try to drink 5 to 10 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during a workout.
  • Use a portable fan at outdoor events. Fans can help the body cool down quicker and more effectively.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. Choose clothing that is made of thinner, lighter materials to help the body stay cool.
  • Know the signs and symptoms. Being aware of the symptoms of heatstroke and taking action quickly can be lifesaving.

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