Please read this carefully for some important information on how to avoid and how to treat heat stroke until emergency medical help arrives.
About.com: What exactly is heat stroke? In layperson's terms, what is going on in a person's body when they experience this condition?
Dr. Joshua Kugler: Heat stroke is a life threatening illness which is a result of the body’s cooling system becoming overwhelmed. The inability to cool down the body by its normal mechanisms (sweating/evaporation, or routine environmental dissipation) will result in a high body temperature called hyperthermia.
If the hyperthermia is not readily reversed it can become severe (body temperature above 104 degrees F = 40 degrees C.) It can have a spectrum of bad outcomes from organ injury (brain, heart, liver and kidney) to coma to death.
The human body will begin to shut down and lose its ability to further protect itself from tissue/organ injury.
About.com: What are some of the symptoms of heat stroke?
Dr. Kugler: Heat stroke is a loss of sweating with red, hot skin and high body temperatures, high heart rate, abnormal behavior and disorientation or confusion, seizures or loss of consciousness.
This is different from heat cramps or heat exhaustion which are early forms of heat stroke. Heat cramps = normal body temperature and sweating mechanism with muscle cramps. Heat exhaustion = worse than heat cramps, sweating with nausea, vomiting and headaches due to rising temperature and poor blood flow to tissues and organs.
About.com: What should people do if they or someone they know experience this condition?
Dr. Kugler: They should immediately remove the person from the environment causing the condition and seek emergency medical attention by calling 911 for heat stroke.
Until medical attention arrives, begin external cooling but DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FORCE DRINKING COLD LIQUIDS in true heat stroke as the patient may not be conscious enough to swallow properly, or may be having altered mental status or seizures.
About.com: When is it time to seek medical help for this condition? And should they seek help immediately?
Dr. Kugler: Heat stroke is a true medical emergency with a very high mortality rate. Should seek help immediately.
About.com: What could happen if a person with heat stroke isn't attended to in a timely manner?
Dr. Kugler: [This could result in] end organ damage due to poor tissue oxygenation (blood flow) and loss of organ function, coma and death.
About.com: What are some tips for avoiding heat stroke?
Dr. Kugler: Hydration, hydration and hydration if you cannot avoid the cause (hot, humid weather; strenuous work in a hot environment, etc.)
Wear loose fitting, breathable fabrics and avoid direct exposure to heat source. Decrease or limit activity to 25 per cent of normal while exposed to hot/humid environments. The elderly and infants should NOT be exposed to hot/humid environments as they are at greatest risk due to their limited compensatory cooling mechanism and increased organ sensitivity.
More about Dr. Joshua Kugler, who oversees one of the busiest emergency rooms in the New York metro area at South Nassau Communities Hospital: He is a diplomate of the American Board of Emergency Medicine and National Board of Medical Examiners, as well ask an American Heart Association instructor in advanced cardiac life support and a member of the New York State Emergency Medical Advisory Committee. He has also served as a designated flight surgeon at the Naval Aerospace and Operational Medical Institute in Pensacola, Florida and completed training within the Department of Defense in combat casualty care, medical effects of nuclear weapons and anti-terrorism tactics.