The accepted definition of heatstroke is a body temperature of over 105 degrees Fahrenheit caused by exposure to a source of heat with a lack of thermoregulation. In the case of a fever body temperature may rise but this is part of the body’s defense mechanism and doesn’t indicate a failure of thermoregulation. Heatstroke is caused by a number of things often in combination. High ambient temperature and humidity, over exertion, alcohol, caffeine, stimulants and medications have all been implicated. Aging is another factor as the body becomes less efficient at regulating body temperature. Put simply, heatstroke occurs when the body cannot dissipate excess heat into the environment, over a period of time.
Treatment of heatstroke is both simple and logical. The patient needs to be cooled as quickly as possible. Getting the person into a cool room or at least into shade and loosening clothing are essential passive cooling strategies.Air conditioning or a fan should be used if available. Bathing in cool water is an example of a good active strategy. There are strategies that should not be used for various reasons such as immersing in very cold water or wrapping the person in wet towels. Very cold water causes vasoconstriction of the blood vessels in the skin which stops heat escaping from the body’s core. Wet fabrics can act as an insulating layer, again trapping heat in the body. Replacement of fluid is essential. If the patient cannot drink water or is confused or unconscious then an intravenous drip should be used.Â To avoid suffering from heat stress people should avoid caffeine, alcohol and heavy meals. Air conditioning and fans should be used and plenty of rest taken. If the person has to go outside a wide brimmed hat should be worn with light colored loose fitting clothes.