Heat Exhaustion (cont.)
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Heat exhaustion definition and facts
- What is heat exhaustion?
- What causes heat exhaustion?
- Who is at risk for heat exhaustion?
- What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion?
- When should a person seek medical care for heat exhaustion?
- How is heat exhaustion diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for heat exhaustion?
- What are the complications of heat exhaustion?
- How can heat exhaustion be prevented
- What is the prognosis for heat exhaustion?
- Find a local Doctor in your town
What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion?
Individuals with heat exhaustion tend to have symptoms such as:
- Profuse sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting.
As dehydration increases from the loss of body water, lightheadedness may occur and fainting (syncope) may occur especially, if the affected individual stands up quickly (due to orthostatic hypotension). A low grade fever also may be present.
When should an individual seek medical care for heat exhaustion
Heat exhaustion usually can be treated at home as long as the affected individual can maintain proper hydration and find a cool place to rest. Water, electrolyte replacement solutions or sport drinks are appropriate to consume. If nausea and vomiting prevent rehydration, the individual should seek medical attention, and may need IV fluids for rehydration.
Muscles cramps can be severe and if stretching and rehydration cannot relieve recurrent cramps, medical care also may be necessary.
It is important to recognize that if the person stops sweating, becomes confused, or has a seizure, heat stroke, a life-threatening condition, may be developing. Emergency medical services should be activated immediately (call 911 if available). The affected individual should be moved to a cooler place, have their clothing removed, and attempts should be made to cool the body with cold compresses, and oscillating fans.
How is heat exhaustion diagnosed?
Diagnosis of heat exhaustion is made by circumstantial evidence:
- History (exercising or working in a hot environment, living in a hot apartment with no air-conditioning)
- Symptoms (excess sweating, headache, weakness, nausea and vomiting)
- Physical examination (signs of dehydration)
However, it is important for the health care professional to consider other diagnoses, since there are many infectious illnesses that accompany a fever, weakness, nausea and vomiting. This is especially the case in the elderly and very young. In these groups, heat exhaustion may be a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that other more serious illnesses should be considered before settling on heat as the cause of the problem. Careful history and physical examination may be all that is needed.
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