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Heat exhaustion or heatstroke? How to tell the difference during Minnesota's excessive heat

Jul 28, 2021 05:10AM ● By Editor

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Photo: KARE 11 News

By Val Lick from KARE 11 - July 27, 2021

With heat index values that could pass 100, Minnesota is getting more than its fair share of hot weather this week. 

There's an Excessive Heat Watch, and the National Weather Service has issued a Heat Advisory for much of central, western and southern Minnesota. The Heat Advisory goes into effect at 1 p.m. Tuesday. 

If you'll be outside during the heat of the day, you can prepare by knowing the risks. Here's how to tell whether you're experiencing heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or potentially-deadly heatstroke.

Heat cramps: The Mayo Clinic says these "painful, involuntary muscle spasms" are the mildest of the three heat syndromes. They usually happen when you're exercising heavily in hot weather. Heat cramps could last longer and feel worse than standard leg cramps. They can happen in any muscle group, but are most likely in your calves, arms, abs or back. 

Here's what the Mayo Clinic says you can do about them: 

  • Rest and cool off
  • Top off your electrolytes with clear juice or a sports drink
  • Do some gentle stretches and massage the cramping muscles
  • Don't get back to exercising as soon as the cramps are gone; you should take a break for several hours or longer

If the cramps aren't gone within about an hour, call your doctor. The CDC says you should get immediate medical help if you're on a low-sodium diet or have heart problems. 

Heat exhaustion: According to the Mayo Clinic, this syndrome is less severe than heatstroke - but left untreated, it can become heatstroke. Here's the symptoms the Mayo Clinic says you should watch out for: 

  • Cool, moist skin with goose bumps while you're in the heat
  • Heavy sweating
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure when you stand
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Here's what the CDC says you should do when you suspect heat exhaustion:

  • Move to a cool place
  • Loosen your clothes
  • Put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bath
  • Sip cool water

But if you're throwing up, your symptoms get worse, or your symptoms last longer than an hour, the CDC says you should get medical help right away. 

Heatstroke: This is the most serious type of heat syndrome. The CDC says it happens when your core body temperature reaches 103 degrees or higher, and it requires emergency treatment. 

Left untreated, it can damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. It can even lead to serious complications or death. Here's the symptoms the Mayo Clinic says you may experience if you have heatstroke:

  • Your body temperature is high. 
  • Your mental state or behavior is altered. This could include confusion, slurred speech, delirium, seizures or coma. 
  • Your sweating is different. If hot weather caused the heatstroke, your skin will feel hot and dry. If strenuous exercise was the cause, your skin could feel either dry or slightly moist. 
  • You feel sick to your stomach or you're throwing up. 
  • Your skin is red or flushed. 
  • Your breathing is rapid and shallow. 
  • Your heart is racing. The Mayo Clinic says this happens because your heart is working overtime to cool you down. 
  • You may have a throbbing headache. 

If you think someone has heatstroke, call 911 immediately. In the meantime, the Mayo Clinic says you should get the person into the shade or indoors, remove their excess clothing, and cool them by whatever methods are available. 

The Mayo Clinic's cooling advice includes putting the person in a cool bath or shower, spraying them with a garden hose, sponging them with cool water, fanning them while misting them with cool water, or placing ice packs or cold, wet towels on their body. 

Risk factors: All three of these symptoms can be brought on by hot weather and intense exercise. The Mayo Clinic says there's other factors that can play a part in serious heat complications, too. 

  • xcess clothing that keeps sweat from evaporating easily
  • Drinking alcohol; it affects your body's ability to regulate your temperature
  • Being dehydrated, like if you don't drink enough water to replace your sweat
  • Age; young kids haven't fully developed their central nervous system. Adults over 65 have central nervous systems that don't cope with heat as well
  • Being exposed to a sudden increase in temperature, like if there's a heat wave or you travel to a hotter climate
  • Some medications that affect your body's ability to stay hydrated and cool. Be careful if you take meds that narrow your blood vessels, block adrenaline to regulate your blood pressure, rid your body of sodium and water (diuretics) or help with mental symptoms (antidepressants or antipsychotics). Stimulants for ADHD, or illegal stimulants like amphetamines or cocaine, can also be a risk factor. 
  • Some health conditions, including heart or lung disease. 

To see the original post and read related stories, follow this link to the KARE 11 News website.
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