Experts state that prolonged or intense exposure to hot temperatures can cause heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke. As your body works to cool itself in warmer temperatures, blood rushes to the surface of your skin. As a result, less blood reaches your brain, muscles and other organs. This can interfere with both your physical strength and your mental capacity, leading, in some cases, to serious danger.
Heat illness can strike virtually anyone. But the elderly, obese persons and chronic alcoholics are at greater risk, as are individuals taking certain drugs, such as antihistamines or antipsychotic medications. High humidity also increases the risk of heat illness because it interferes with the evaporation of sweat – your body’s way of cooling itself.
Heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke all occur when your body cannot cool itself adequately. But each is slightly different.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses large amounts of water and salt through excessive sweating. This loss of essential fluids can disturb circulation and interfere with brain function. Individuals who have heart problems or are on low-sodium diets may be particularly susceptible to heat exhaustion.
As in heat exhaustion, heat cramps can strike when the body loses excessive amounts of fluids and salt. This deficiency, accompanied by the loss of other essential nutrients such as potassium and magnesium, typically occurs during heavy exert ion.
Heat stroke, the most serious of the heat-related illnesses, occurs when the body suffers from long, intense exposure to heat and loses its ability to cool itself. In prolonged, extreme heat, the part of the brain that normally regulates body temperature malfunctions. This decreases the body’s ability to sweat and, therefore, cool down. Those who have certain medical conditions that decrease the body’s ability to sweat may be at greater risk of developing heat stroke.