How People Succumb to Heat Strokes

In a recent tragic incident, undocumented immigrants who were travelling from Mexico to Texas, stuffed in the back of a steaming metal tractor-trailer, were found either injured, dying or dead. Even the surviving human trafficking victims will have “irreversible brain damage” says the San Antonio fire chief. Read on to find more about heat stroke and how it kills.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke, also known as heat illness or hyperthermia, occurs when your core body temperature increases to more than 40 degree Celsius (or 104 degree Fahrenheit). Under such a condition, enormous changes occur in brain function, altering mental status or consciousness. Heat stroke also leads to profound cardiovascular side effects including elevated heart rate and low blood pressure. All these conditions lead to the risk of permanent kidney, heart and brain damage, which can be potentially fatal.

What happens during a heat stroke?

When the human body temperature increases, the body cells become chaotic and deranged. Then the resulting surge of events immensely affect the central nervous system, the brain, and the organs.
Craig Crandall, professor of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center says “As far as the brain is concerned, it starts to shut down. The brain swells, individual brain cells stop working and since it is their job to communicate throughout the system, the organs stop receiving the appropriate information from the brain.”
Further, due to heat stress, the permeability of the intestinal lining increases, leading to the release of cytotoxins throughout the body. The blood vessels get dilated and blood pressure goes down. Blood clots too occur, affecting the circulation and transportation of nutrients and oxygen. The cutting down of this supply hampers the functioning of the brain and other organs of the body.
“So the person would pass out and likely be in a coma and can convulse and if it continues will lead to organ failure and ultimately death, which happened, tragically, in some of these individuals who were in that trailer. It’s just a bad scenario all around” says Crandall.

What are heat strokes’ warning signs and symptoms?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the warning signs of a heat stroke include high body temperature; red, hot, damp or dry skin; a strong fast pulse rate; dizziness; headache; nausea; confused feeling; and loss of consciousness.
The reasons behind these symptoms are extreme hyperventilation, exhaling too much CO2, and high levels of dehydration. In each case of heat stroke the symptoms may vary.

What are there different types of heat stroke?

Heat stroke can be of two type viz., the exertional heat stroke and the classic heat stroke. The former usually affects athletes, like road racers and football players, who exercise rigorously and their bodies are unable to check the heat fast enough.
The classic heat stroke or the passive heat stroke occurs when one’s body becomes excessively dehydrated due to excessive sweating. Finally, the body is unable to sweat any further, which raises the body temperature rapidly. The tragic incident mentioned at the opening of this article is a case of classic heat stroke.
So, the two things that increase the probability of a heat stroke is increased heat and humidity, and the inability to sweat.

What is the treatment for heat stroke?

Doctors treat heat stroke affected patients by keeping them wet and winded to rapidly cool and rehydrate them to bring their body temperature to normal as fast as possible. Ice baths, tepid water sprays and blowing fans have been used traditionally to help recover heat stroke patients. In emergency rooms, a combination of all these is used. They put icepack under the neck, groin and armpits of the patient; and spray water all over him while fans run air current across him, maximizing the evaporation.

What is the probability of a complete recovery after a heat stroke?

Atheletes usually recover completely after a heat stroke. It depends on how his health condition is and how fast he receives treatment. However, heat stroke recovered patients are at increased risk of a heat stroke in the following months, weeks or days.
And, no matter whether the patient is an athlete or not, once one’s body temperature increases to more than 40 degree Celsius, profound changes occur in the brain’s function, leading to a risk of permanent kidney, heart and brain damage, and hence death.

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