From Our 2008 Archives

Activity-Linked Heat Illness Needs Prompt Attention

SUNDAY, June 29 (HealthDay News) — As the mercury continues to rise, people of all ages should take precautions to ward off heat-related illness while exercising, playing or taking part in any kind of physical activity outside.

"Many cases of heat illness are preventable and can be successfully treated if such conditions are properly recognized and appropriate care is provided in a timely manner," Brendon McDermott, a certified athletic trainer with the University of Connecticut, said in a prepared statement. "We're hoping to educate athletes, coaches, parents and health care providers about what can be done to prevent and treat heat illnesses."

The National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) recently issued recommendations to help guard against illness related to warm-weather activity:

  • Don't start at full tilt. Gradually increasing the intensity and duration of activity helps ready your body for the heat.
  • Take rest breaks. Add them to the activity and get adequate rest between bouts of exercise. Good sleeping habits also cut your risk of heat-related trouble.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink water or sports drinks well before and throughout physical activity in the heat. If your urine turns a darker color — more like apple juice than lemonade — that's a quick indicator of dehydration.
  • Timing helps. When possible, exercise during the cooler portions of the day — early morning or late evening.

Back off at signs of trouble. If you don't feel well, reduce the intensity or length of your activity, for example, walk instead of run. If you have symptoms of an illness (e.g., fever, diarrhea, extreme fatigue, etc.) don't exercise at all. These conditions can decrease your body's tolerance for heat and increase your risk of a heat illness.

Even if you think you are prepared, always listen to your body. If you start to feel ill or strange, stop immediately and seek medical attention.

Here are some heat-related ailments to watch for in yourself and others when working or playing in the warm weather:

Exertional heat stroke can result in death unless quickly recognized and properly treated. Watch for an increase in core body temperature (usually above 104 degrees F/40 degrees C); altered consciousness, seizures, confusion, emotional instability, irrational behavior or decreased mental acuity, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea; headache, dizziness, or weakness; increased heart rate; decreased blood pressure or fast breathing; dehydration; and combativeness. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately; if you are waiting for medical help to arrive try immediate whole-body cooling, preferably through immersion in cold water.

Heat exhaustion is moderately serious, usually resulting from fluid or sodium loss in the heat. Loss of coordination; dizziness or fainting; profuse sweating or pale skin; headache, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; stomach/intestinal cramps or persistent muscle cramps are its signs. Heat exhaustion patients need to move to a cool, shaded environment, with feet elevated, and be given fluids. If their condition worsens or does not improve shortly, get them to an emergency room. Even if the patient does improve, NATA recommends having a doctor evaluate them.

Heat cramps often occur in people who perform strenuous exercise in the heat. Signs and symptoms include intense pain (not associated with pulling or straining a muscle) and persistent muscle contractions that continue during and after exercise. When heat cramps occur, stop activity immediately, eat salty food, consume a sports drink and stretch the affected muscle. If cramping getting worse or spreads, head to the emergency room.

Hyponatremia happens when a person's blood sodium levels decrease to a potentially fatal level. Over-hydration, inadequate sodium intake or both can cause it, with the result possibly being cerebral and/or pulmonary edema. Signs and symptoms include excessive fluid consumption to the point of weight gain during activity; increasing headache; nausea and vomiting; and swelling of the hands and feet. If the condition involves mental confusion and intense headache, see a doctor. A doctor should also be consulted before resuming outdoor activity in the heat.

— Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: National Athletic Trainers' Association, news release, June 2008

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