Hyperthermia history and symptoms

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

History and Symptoms

Heat prostration, or heat exhaustion, is characterized by mental confusion, muscle cramps, and often nausea or vomiting. At this stage the victim will likely be sweating profusely. With continued exposure to ambient heat, which sometimes is facilitated by the mental confusion, temperature may rise into the 39 to 40 °C range (103 to 104 °F), and lead to full-blown heat stroke.

One of the body's most important methods of temperature regulation is perspiration. This process draws heat from inside, allowing it to be carried off by radiation or convection. Evaporation of the sweat furthers cooling, since this endothermic process draws yet more heat from the body. When the body becomes sufficiently dehydrated to prevent the production of sweat this avenue of heat reduction is closed. When the body is no longer capable of sweating core temperature begins to rise swiftly.

Victims may become confused, may become hostile, often experience headache, and may seem intoxicated. Blood pressure may drop significantly from dehydration, leading to possible fainting or dizziness, especially if the victim stands suddenly. Heart rate and respiration rate will increase (tachycardia and tachypnea) as blood pressure drops and the heart attempts to supply enough oxygen to the body. The skin will become red as blood vessels dilate in an attempt to increase heat dissipation. The decrease in blood pressure will cause blood vessels to contract as heat stroke progresses, resulting in a pale or bluish skin colour. Complaints of feeling hot may be followed by chills and trembling, as is the case in fever. Some victims, especially young children, may suffer convulsions. Acute dehydration such as that accompanying heat stroke can produce nausea and vomiting; temporary blindness may also be observed. Eventually, as body organs begin to fail, unconsciousness and coma will result.

Under very rare circumstances a person may exhibit symptoms similar to heat stroke without suffering a heat stroke.

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