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Photo of the sun high and a sweating man, at risk for heat stroke

When temperatures are high, so is the risk of heat stroke

Summer may be coming to an end in a month but often times temperatures can remain high through October in South Carolina. The warmth gives us the opportunity to still enjoy the outdoors, but be aware of the risks of heat stroke and dehydration.

During the warmer months, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System practices and emergency center see a rise in heat strokes and heat-related illnesses.

Internal medicine physician John Gallagher, MD, says quick reactions to symptoms are imperative.

“Senior citizens are the most susceptible to heat stroke, along with people who have conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart or lung disease,” Dr. Gallagher said.

Symptoms of heat stroke commonly include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Less bodily fluid, like sweating or urinating

“All of those things are red flags that something is going on,” Dr. Gallagher said. “A true heat stroke is defined as having a raised temperature plus an altered mental state.”

The symptoms of heat stroke are similar to what happens when you’re having a stroke. The person may be confused, have abnormal behavior or have difficulty speaking.

“The longer your body temperature is at 104 – which is the definition of heat stroke – the higher a patient is at risk for long-term damage to the brain, liver and kidneys,” said Dr. Gallagher. “The patient has to get cooled down in any way, shape or form.”

Along with cooling down the person, you should call 911, especially if they are experiencing confusion.

“To help cool a patient off, it is generally suggested to take their clothes off, sponge them down with lukewarm water and put fans on them,” Dr. Gallagher said. “If you can’t do that, you can put ice packs on places that have large blood vessels.”

In the heat, dehydration is also a concern. For athletes, Dr. Gallagher said many need more salt to avoid dehydration and heat cramps.

“You need the salt water to get rid of the muscle cramps,” he said. “If you just put a half a teaspoon of salt in a bottle of Gatorade, now you have 1250 milligrams of salt in that drink and it will help with heat cramps.”

Stay cool and avoid heat stroke and dehydration:

  • Work or exercise outside in the early mornings or late evenings when it’s cooler
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing
  • Get out of the heat when you feel flushed, stop sweating or get dry mouth
  • Avoid caffeine, which dehydrates the body

Talk to your physician if you take any medications that could put you at risk of heat stroke or dehydration. Call 911 if you or someone around you is experiencing heat stroke.

About John Gallagher, MD

Dr. Gallagher is a physician for Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. Dr. Gallagher specializes in internal medicine at Medical Group of the Carolinas—Internal Medicine—Spartanburg, located at 100 East Wood St., Suite 401, Spartanburg.