Harvard Publication Offers Tips to Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses

In an average year, about 200 Americans die from heat-related illnesses, and during hot summers the toll can double. Many more suffer less severe heat-related problems. The August 2008 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch outlines three threats from the heat, along with simple precautions that can help people protect their health, and potentially their lives.

Heat cramps: Heat cramps signal dehydration severe enough to deprive muscles of the extra oxygen they need to exercise. The remedy: slow down, drink cool water, stretch out, and gently massage the muscle.

Heat exhaustion: In heat exhaustion, body temperature is high, often above 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include weakness, lethargy, loss of concentration, headache, and nausea. Heat exhaustion impairs mental clarity and judgment, so you may not recognize the problem as it develops. Move to a cool place, remove clothing, apply ice packs if available, and drink cool fluids.

Heat stroke: Classic heat stroke typically strikes elderly people who stay inside stifling homes without air conditioners or fans. Exertional heat stroke victims are typically men who exercise vigorously during a hot spell. Heat stroke is a true medical emergency; weakness and confusion evolve into delirium, stupor, coma, and seizures. Survival depends on prompt transfer to a hospital for aggressive treatment.

Harvard Men’s Health Watch suggests a few tips to ward off heat-related problems:

  • Hydrate. Drink 10 to 12 cups of water a day, and more if you exercise.
  • Get away from the heat. An air-conditioned room is best, but a fan will help.
  • When you go out, stay out of the sun and avoid midday heat when possible. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored garments.
  • Don't exercise when it's hot or humid. Try exercising in the early morning or evening, or in an air-conditioned gym.

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