Is It Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke?

Sponsored by: Roper St. Francis Healthcare

Charleston's summers are no joke. The high temperatures combined with the high humidity can be potentially dangerous if you don't pay attention to your body. Whether mowing the grass, playing at the beach or even working in the blistering sun, it's important to know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year. Heat-related deaths are largely preventable and in a hot climate like the Lowcountry's, it's important to be vigilant during the hot summer season.

Heat Stroke

Dr. Todd Detar, medical director for Roper St. Francis Express Care, says heat stroke is a severe heat disorder that causes neurological problems, such as headaches and confusion.

"When you have something affecting the brain, that's a medical emergency," he says. "You need be evaluated and cooled down."

Dr. Detar says heat stroke is easier to diagnose, because body temperatures hit 106 degrees or higher. However, the consequences are much more severe. At that temperature, the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles can become damaged, leading to serious complications or death.

Exertional heat stroke can strike those exercising outdoors in hot weather. The body temperature is already increased due to exercising, so with the added high temperatures, it becomes harder for the body to cool itself down, Dr. Detar says.

But heat stroke can happen to those who aren't exercising or exerting themselves in the heat and humidity. Non-exertional heat stroke often impacts the elderly, very young children or chronically ill, Dr. Detar explains.

Those groups, he says, can't acclimate as well to the hot temperatures the way younger, healthier individuals do, and they can get sick pretty quickly.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is less serious than heat stroke, but certainly not something to ignore. Symptoms include weakness, rash, muscle cramps and even the beginnings of some heat stroke symptoms. Dr. Detar says someone with heat exhaustion symptoms may not necessarily need to go to the ER. Medical professionals at an urgent care facility can provide treatment.

To avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke, Dr. Detar recommends people limit their exposure to the heat. Stay in a cool environment and use fans to reduce the temperature. He also suggests limiting alcohol use, which disrupts the body's mechanisms for cooling itself. Staying hydrated is also critically important.

And while hitting the beach seems like a good way to beat the heat, Dr. Detar suggests going in the early morning or evening to avoid the hottest part of the day - especially if you have small children.

"There are, on average, 300 heat stroke deaths per year," Dr. Detar says. "It's definitely preventable. The biggest thing is staying hydrated and avoiding the extreme heat."

If you or someone you know is having a heat stroke, get them to a hospital. For symptoms of heat exhaustion, cool down and hydrate, or go to an urgent care facility, like Roper St. Francis Express Care. For locations and other information, call (843) 403-LATE (5283) or visit online.