Heat stroke, heat collapse, overheating, heat stroke or hyperthermia syndrome is a life-threatening condition in which the body temperature can reach a critical value of over 39 degrees Celsius due to intense heat and physical exertion. Due to insufficient heat regulation, the body is no longer able to cool down the body to normal temperatures by producing sufficient sweat. The result is circulatory shock or death from overheating. Urgent medical help must be called immediately (emergency number 112).
What is heat stroke?
According to abbreviationfinder, heat stroke, or hyperthermia syndrome is a physical disorder of the body as a result of faulty heat regulation. Heatstroke often occurs in summer, when people are exposed to too much sun and/or heat without losing enough body heat in the form of sweat ( sweating ) or body temperature.
Above all, sweating serves to regulate the temperature against overheating, because sweat and the air lead to so-called transpiration, which cools the body down through the cold sweat. In medicine, heat stroke is counted among the heat injuries, which can also include sunstroke.
If the body temperature is more than 40 degrees Celsius without the fever present, it is referred to as heat stroke. If left untreated, it can lead to death, since the protein in the cells (e.g. muscle cells) coagulates from a body temperature of around 42 degrees Celsius.
The causes of heat stroke are obvious. This can lead to heat stroke, mostly in summer, when the temperature is above 30 degrees Celsius and the sun warms the body unhindered. Heavy physical work or sport often promotes heat stroke, since the body temperature increases further and the circulation is additionally challenged.
If the body is not cooled down again by drinking enough and sweating and the body temperature remains at more than 40 degrees Celsius, heat stroke is almost inevitable. Older people in particular dress too much in summer and when it is very hot, making it difficult for body heat to escape.
This accumulation of heat then leads to unconsciousness or fainting. In addition, the circulatory system can be life-threateningly disrupted. Urgent medical help is then necessary.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Typical symptoms of heat stroke are an increased body temperature of over 40 degrees Celsius and a high pulse, dizziness and nausea. The skin feels hot, dry and red due to reduced sweat production. Blood pressure is normal at the beginning but falls as the disease progresses.
In the further course, a circulatory collapse can occur, combined with impaired consciousness and coma. Without intensive medical treatment, heat stroke can lead to death. In the event of a heat stroke, the cardiovascular system is overloaded, which can lead to sweating, dizziness and tachycardia. Accompanying this, panic attacks can occur.
In the area of the brain, insufficient blood flow can cause what is known as cerebral edema. Water flows out of the vessels into the brain and causes swelling, which manifests itself in increasing headaches and neck pain, apathy, confusion and coma.
In infants and young children, heat stroke can be recognized by the reddened, dry skin and increased irritability. The baby also refuses to eat and shows signs of impaired consciousness. In severe cases, seizures and unconsciousness are added. In addition, the body temperature quickly rises to over 41 degrees Celsius.
course of the disease
The course of a heat stroke depends on the intensity of the body temperature and how long the affected person has been overheated. Therefore, if heat stroke is suspected, an ambulance should be called immediately. The doctor will then try to stabilize the circulation and lower the body temperature again.
Heatstroke can have life-threatening consequences if no third party gets help. Helpers should not leave the person affected by heatstroke alone, but try to put them in a stable lateral position and, in extreme cases, in the event of cardiac arrest and respiratory arrest, also use cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Heat stroke is caused by the overheating of the human body, so this clinical picture is of course associated with serious complications. It is not uncommon for various side effects to occur in connection with heat stroke, which make it necessary to be treated by a doctor. These side effects include severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, fever and a general state of exhaustion.
Anyone who seeks medical treatment early in such a case will be able to effectively combat or eliminate the above-mentioned complications. However, if you do not seek treatment from a doctor at this point, you are taking a very large risk. It is not uncommon for the individual symptoms to worsen considerably, making a visit to the doctor unavoidable.
In most cases, heat stroke is associated with a long-lasting headache, usually accompanied by a feeling of nausea. Repeated vomiting is also not uncommon if severe heat stroke is present. So, of course, heat stroke has many different complications that can get worse if left untreated.
However, if you seek medical and drug treatment early on, you will be able to avoid or effectively alleviate the existing complications. The affected person should definitely get out of the sun, as there may be an acute danger to life.
When should you go to the doctor?
If symptoms such as headaches, nausea or dizziness are noticed after being in the sun for a long time, it may be a case of heat stroke. A doctor should be consulted if the symptoms persist for more than a few hours and increase in intensity over time. If there are other symptoms such as tachycardia or impaired consciousness, a doctor must be consulted immediately. In the event of a circulatory collapse and other complications, the emergency services must be alerted.
People who already suffer from a disease of the heart or the cardiovascular system should consult a doctor immediately if they experience the symptoms mentioned. The same applies to pregnant women and the elderly. If children show signs of heat stroke, they should go to the pediatrician on the same day. If in doubt, we recommend going to the nearest hospital. The right contact person for heat stroke is the family doctor or a specialist in circulatory diseases. The medical emergency service can provide initial information about the symptoms of the hyperthermia syndrome and suggest further measures to the person concerned.
Treatment & Therapy
After the emergency doctor (emergency number 112) has diagnosed heat stroke, they will first try to protect the patient from a circulatory collapse.
At the same time, he will try to lower the body temperature again. The first treatment measures can also be carried out by passers-by or companions. This includes:
- Move the sufferer to a shady and cool place
- Position the patient in the stable lateral position, if possible with the upper body slightly elevated
- Cool down the body with cool air (fan), cool wraps (towels) or cool packs.
- Observe the heatstroke sufferer until the emergency doctor arrives
- If breathing and pulse stop, cardiopulmonary resuscitation should be started immediately
The doctor then usually takes the patient to a hospital for further treatment. Further measures to stabilize the circulation and body temperature are then initiated here.
Outlook & Forecast
In the case of a diagnosis of “heat stroke”, the person concerned should not be left alone and kept awake, as the patient’s condition can deteriorate rapidly. Breathing and pulse should also be checked constantly. If fainting occurs, elevate the patient’s legs to allow blood to flow more easily to the brain. If you are unconscious, it is advisable to lie on your side, as this can also disrupt the blood flow to the brain and other organs. If respiratory arrest or circulatory failure occurs, cardiac massage and ventilation must be performed.
Heatstroke can affect anyone, including the young and healthy. A deadly end is more likely to occur in children, since their temperature regulation is not yet fully developed, as well as in older or chronically ill people. Therefore, the course of heat stroke depends not only on the factors that caused it, but also on the age and state of health of the person affected. Depending on the severity, collapse can occur, accompanied by fever and nausea up to complete collapse of the circulatory system and severe brain damage. In the worst case, heat stroke can be fatal. The majority of those affected survive a heat stroke without permanent damage.
Of course, heat stroke can be prevented. Logically, the first preventive measure should be to avoid excessive body temperature increases. This means that weather-appropriate clothing is worn in summer and a hat or parasol is worn when the sun is strong. Furthermore, you should drink enough and cool down your body by taking a cool shower or bathing in cool water.
Lastly, excessive physical exertion should be avoided. This includes sports and heavy physical work. Furthermore, you should stay more in the shade. Hot teas have also proven to be beneficial, since they serve as a source of liquid and also make the body sweat, so that the sweat can cool down the body temperature.
Mild heat stroke usually does not require medical treatment or aftercare. The symptoms usually disappear within a few hours through the self-applied first aid measures. If medical treatment by a family doctor or even an emergency doctor was necessary due to longer-lasting symptoms or the severity of the heat stroke, appropriate aftercare must be provided.
If cerebral edema has developed, the prescribed diuretics must be taken strictly according to the doctor’s instructions. This is the only way to promote liquid excretion via the kidneys and further reduce the edema. If the edema is acute and life-threatening and an operation has been performed, good wound hygiene must be ensured in the weeks following the operation.
In smaller children, observation of behavioral changes over the next few days is required. These can manifest as abdominal pain, sensitivity to touch, difficulty sleeping, sensitivity to light and noise, or general malaise. Seizures, fever, clouding of consciousness or vomiting are also possible. All of these symptoms can indicate sunstroke-related meningitis and require immediate medical consultation and treatment.
In general, all those affected should avoid prolonged exposure to the sun and physical exertion in the near future, ensure adequate fluid intake and protect themselves from renewed sunstroke by wearing suitable headgear or a sunshade.
You can do that yourself
If heat stroke is suspected, first aid measures must be taken immediately. The affected person should first be moved to a cool, shady place. Head and neck can be cooled with cold compresses. A cold shower and some rest often helps with a slight sunstroke. In addition, it must be ensured that the person affected drinks enough – preferably water or apple spritzer – and remains conscious. If you develop a loss of consciousness or nausea, it is best to call the emergency doctor immediately. Until then, those affected should be positioned slightly upwards so that the head and upper body are well supplied with blood.
With severe heat stroke, attention should be paid to panic attacks and symptoms of dehydration or apathy. If such symptoms occur, treatment by a doctor is absolutely necessary. Bed rest and rest are then definitely indicated until the symptoms subside. Heatstroke in infants and young children requires immediate treatment in the hospital or by an ambulance. The same applies here: take the affected person out of the sun, cool them down and give them enough to drink. In addition, preventive measures should be taken to avoid heat stroke again.