Heat exhaustion & heat stroke: What every outrageous grrl should know…
It’s summer. You’re busy. No matter what the weather, you have things to do outside. Taking advantage of the summer months you tend your garden, build a fence, mow the grass, hike a mountain, run a race and bike to the store.
As the Sufi religion says, “Movement is life.”
Healthy living for women over 40 means you gotta move it or lose it. But baby, it’s hot out there! The risks for heat exhaustion and heat stroke goes up as the thermometer reading rises. But what’s the difference between the two?
Let’s start at the beginning…
Your hot body responds to the environmental variables of temperature, humidity, radiant heat from the Sun or surfaces as well as wind speed. You start by sweating and breathing faster to cool your core body temp down. But if you are in a humid region, you have more difficulty sweating off the heat. So in Alabama on a 95º day painting a white wall during a breeze-less afternoon you could be headed for heat cramps, exhaustion or stroke.
Here’s the facts:
These are muscle spasms, usually giving you Charlie Horses in your calves or other muscles due to dehydration.
- What to do: It’s not too serious. Nothing a little rest in the shade in a hammock with a nice, tall glass of ice water won’t cure. But it can be a first symptom telling you that you are headed toward heat exhaustion.
Think wet, white and weak.
With continued exposure to heat and humidity, a dehydrated gal can start to become tired, maybe a bit confused. She feels sweaty, maybe even clammy… nauseated and pale. Remember: in humid environments, the body’s cooling system can become impaired. She may even faint.
- What to do: OK, this is a common health issue during the summer months but should be taken seriously. Get to a cool place, get cool compresses going to the head and neck and start a fan running. Start pounding low sugar sports drinks, not soda or tea. It will start to balance out blood sodium and other electrolytes that are now dripping off in the form of sweat.
Water will obviously help. But too much of a good thing and the blood becomes diluted, further reducing the amount of sodium in your circulatory system. Making things worse, too much water too quickly can lead to water poisoning.
What the hell is water poisoning?
Water poisoning (water intoxication or hyponatremia) happens when you are super dehydrated and sweaty. Drinking too much (like as little as 3 liters) too quickly dilutes the blood sodium to the point of coma, seizures and death…not too common.
You might have heard about this with kids who rave on Ecstasy, dancing for hours without drinking a drop of water. All of a sudden, they come down enough to realize how thirsty they are. They chug a bunch of water, dilute their blood too fast, seize and die. Again…doesn’t happen often. Just be aware of this. Drink water when you are thirsty. (…and when you go to your next rave…lol.)
So what is heat stroke?
Think dry, delirious and serious.
Sweat mechanisms have now failed. Mental confusion sets in. Nausea, vomiting, chest pain, abdominal pain, fainting and seizures are noted. The body shuts down its ability to regulate its temp. Core body temperature exceeds 104°.
- What to do: If you even just suspect heat stroke, call 911. Get the person cooled off with ice packs to the arm pits and groin and fan them while you wait for the ambulance. Try cool water or Gatorade.
Once in the ER, the will hydrate with IV fluids, cool the body with baths, fans or more ice and possibly do some tests once the crisis is averted to check for heat-induced damage to the heart, kidneys, liver and brain.
When are you safe to resume your outdoor activities once you recover? According to Dr. F.G. O’Connor, president of the American Medical Society of Sports Medicine, this is a very controversial topic. A study by the US Army’s Research Institute for Environmental Medicine found that a soldier had an increased risk of death from liver failure even 30 years after having a heat stroke episode.
Talk to your doctor. She will give you appropriate guidelines for returning back to rockin’ the summer heat.
A Cautionary Tale
Last summer my husband, Grant, and I planned to bike the Mickelson Trail, a 100 mile Rails-to-Trails route through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Beautiful. But I didn’t drink enough water and Gatorade nor did I eat enough along the way that first hot day of uphill climbing. Soon, it was not so beautiful.
A few steaming hot hours into it I became super thirsty and disoriented. I slurred my words. Not quite to our destination, we were still out in the middle of nowhere so I soldiered on, stopping only to vomit along the trail. Grant said I looked pale.
The bike trail took us five miles of downhill (thank gawd) riding into Custer. Biking to our hotel, I saw a blue hospital sign. The thought did cross my confuse mind that I might need medical attention.
Stumbling into the hotel room, I quickly cooled off in the shower, drank water and ate a big bowl of the best fucking chicken noodle soup I have ever had that Grant got me at the restaurant next door. The salty broth, the cool shower and the 12 hour nap I took that night made me almost as good as new.
Needless to say, I did NOT get back on my bike the next day. I drove the support vehicle and totally enjoyed the Black Hills from the comfy, air conditioned cab of our truck.
Now, looking back, I see I could have been in a big ass heap of trouble. I got lucky.
Don’t push your luck. Stay cool. Stay hydrated. And stay safe in the hot sun.
What activities do you do in the heat of the summer? How do you like to cool off?