Recognizing the Signs of Heat Stroke, What to Do

Mike Lipscomb, ER Medical Director at North Fulton Hospital in Roswell shares what to do when faced with a heat illness.

You feel dizzy, your legs are cramping and your fingers are swelling. Unless you've got a medical condition which explains these issues, you're probably suffering from a heat illness.

Mike Lipscomb, ER Medical Director at in Roswell says that for most people, there are warning signs that the heat is beginning to affect them.

The first signs may be muscle cramps in your stomach, arms or legs. You may notice swelling in your feet, legs and ankles. Another early warning sign may be dizziness or feeling faint. People taking certain medications including beta-blockers may be more prone to heat-related dizziness. If you notice these early signs of heat illnesses, here are some steps you can take:

  • Stop any physical activity and move to a cooler, shady area.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid drinks containing alcohol or caffeine.
  • Put your legs up if you notice swelling or feel dizzy.

If these measures don’t work, Lipscomb says, contact your doctor.

Heat exhaustion is the second stage of heat illness. This means that your body can’t keep itself cool. Symptoms may include thirst, dizziness, weakness, lack of coordination, nausea and profuse sweating. Your body temperature will be normal, but your skin will feel cold and clammy. If you start feeling the signs of heat exhaustion,.

Lipscomb stresses that if you don’t start feeling better soon, you should seek emergency medical care. North Fulton Hospital offers the InquickER program to “hold your place in line” at the emergency room. Do so if heat exhaustion is suspected or go directly to the hospital’s emergency room.

The final stage is heat stroke, which requires immediate emergency care.

“This is a life-threatening illness where your body can’t regulate its temperature by sweating,” said Lipscomb.

If this occurs, your temperature rises so high that brain damage or death may occur. During heat stroke, your internal temperature may reach 106 degrees fahrenheit within 10 to 15 minutes. The warning signs of heat stroke include:

  • Body temperature of 103 degrees or more
  • Skin that is red, hot and dry
  • Lack of sweating
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Mental confusion
  • Unconsciousness

Remember that if you see the signs of heat stroke, this is a life-threatening emergency. Anyone with these symptoms should be taken immediately to the closest emergency facility. Call 9-1-1 for emergency assistance and start trying to cool the person until help arrives.

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