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The Horrible Things That Happen to Your Body in Extreme Heat

Dr. Munir Hussain

3 min read

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Just like an ice-cream machine that requires a specific temperature for that perfect cold cream, your body must also remain at a specific internal temperature, i.e. 37oC, in order to function optimally; wherein slight fluctuations in this temperature can disrupt the body’s machinations. While heat exhaustion and stroke are obvious repercussions of high internal temperatures, prolonged extreme heat exposure can have adverse effects on the body in many other ways. Consult your doctor if you have any of the horrible effects of extreme heat:

1- Muscle Cramps

At times, plain water is just not enough to replace the bodily fluids lost due to prolonged physical exertion in the sweltering heat. Since body salts are also excreted within sweat, this causes an internal deficiency of salts and electrolytes, resulting in those painful muscle cramps that you just can’t explain.

2- Heat Rash

Excess heat-induced sweating can block the sweat glands and pores, causing skin irritation and prickly rashes of tiny red spots known as a ‘heat rash’ or ‘miliaria’ (aka ‘prickly heat’). These bumps commonly develop on the face, neck, back, chest and thighs, with less common places being the stomach, armpits, hands, feet, and groin.

3- Heat Edema

This is a direct result of the body’s efforts to avoid overheating. When someone who is unaccustomed to high temperatures is exposed to extreme heat, the body dilates the blood vessels in order to expel as much heat as possible, resulting in blood accumulation in the ankles and leading to swollen legs, feet, and/or hands.

4- Confusion and Dizziness

We already know that the blood vessels dilate to avoid overheating. However, this dilation combined with fluid loss via sweating can cause difficulty in thinking and performing mental tasks, along with increased irritability due to reduced blood flow to the brain. Moreover, prolonged periods of decreased brain blood flow can also lead to ‘heat syncope’, a condition in which dizziness is followed by a temporary loss of consciousness due to extreme heat exposure.

5- Heat Exhaustion

Regular loss of body fluids and salts and prolonged heat exposure diminishes the body’s heat-reducing functions, causing an overall ‘lag’ that results in increased sweating, thirst, dizziness, fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, possible diarrhea, palpitations (irregular heartbeat), and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet. Known as ‘Heat Exhaustion’, this condition requires urgent medical attention as it can rapidly escalate to a heat stroke.

6- Heat Stroke

One of the most horrible effects of extreme heat is a heat stroke. This serious condition occurs when excess sweating results in sweat gland blockage, causing the body’s temperature to rise up to or above 40oC. A heat stroke may attack suddenly or follow an episode of heat syncope or exhaustion, with common signs being seizures, hot, dry skin, confusion, profuse sweating and high body temperature. If not treated immediately, it can permanently damage the heart, brain, and kidneys.

7- Heart, Brain and Kidney Damage

A heat stroke increases the risk of cardiac failure due to reduced blood pressure and regular heart palpitations, while also leading to blood clot formation that may prevent circulation or cut off blood supply to certain body parts entirely. Moreover, neural (brain) swelling may lead to constant headaches, and even seizures in extreme cases. Other by-products of stroke-induced brain damage include confusion, delirium, hallucinations, agitation, and unconsciousness. Finally, a heat stroke may also lead to complete kidney failure.

8- Extreme heat can stop you sweating

When we use the word ‘serious’ then we mean it. It might seem like delusion, but it is not, as it might be a sign of a heat stroke and need to be treated immediately.

Normal body temperature is around 37 to 38 degrees Celsius. But if the body heats up too much to a temperature of 40 to 41 degree Celsius, the body experiences a heat stroke. During this time the body’s heat regulatory system tries to keep water around vital organs and stops sweating.

If you are suspicious that someone is experiencing a heat stroke, then you should immediately call 999. Then you should apply ice packs to parts of the body where crucial arteries are located, that is the armpits and groin, to try and cool them down.

We are obviously not trying to stop you from visiting the park with your friends. We are just saying that when you do so, make sure to apply a lot of sunscreen and have (biodegradable) water bottles with you.

9- You Can Die

According to the National Weather Service, based on data collected form a 30-year period, an average of 130 people in the U.S. die per annum due to heat. It is the highest in all-weather events.

Most of the deaths took place at the time of heat waves. This is a period of an uncommonly and disturbingly hot and humid weather. It can last for several days or weeks.

Michael N. Sawka, Ph.D., a physiologist with Georgia Tech, previously with the department of Defense, who has studied human adaptations to extreme weathers for 40 years, said that when temperatures become alarming the adjustment to climate differs from one individual to another based on their dress, exertion level and whether they have any pre-existing conditions, such as heart diseases.

He also explained that there are two ways in which the body cools itself, namely evaporation and convection. In evaporation, sweat evaporates from the surface of the body releasing heat and cooling the body. In convection, the body transfers blood from the central region to the outer surfaces, that is near the skin, in order to cool the body. When these two methods cease to work, problems begin.

Remember to stay adequately hydrated and take proper precautions to protect yourself from the horrible effects of extreme heat. If you observe symptoms pertaining to any of the above conditions, particularly heat exhaustion, syncope, or a stroke, consult with your doctor immediately. You can also book an appointment with a top General Physician in Rawalpindi, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your health-related concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Munir Hussain
Dr. Munir Hussain - Author Dr. Munir Hussain Shah is a Nutritionist practicing in Multan. Dr. Munir Hussain Shah has the following degrees: MBBS, PGD (ALOU) and has 32 years of experience. You can book an appointment with Dr. Munir Hussain Shah by calling us or using the 'book appointment' button.He loves to write on healthcare to raise awareness about general healthcare issues in Pakistan and advise patients on healthy living

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