Death by heat: here’s how it happens

As you know, those of us in the Mid-West and on the East Coast have been enduring some sweltering, record-setting high temperatures the last few days. Not surprisingly, the phenomenon of brutally hot weather has been on my mind today because I’m seeing headlines about how all this heat has been killing people. The death toll thus far stands at 13, but if the scorching weather continues (please, Lord, no), that number will rise a good deal. But how exactly, you may have asked yourself (as I have) does heat actually kill someone? Well, it’s quick but not painless.

The University of Maryland Medical Center’s website explains the process and also lists symptoms and the recommended treatment:

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body gets too hot. The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls thirst and hunger, also controls the body’s core temperature. Normally, the body cools itself by sweating. But if you are exposed to high temperatures for a long time (working outdoors in the summer, for example) and don’t replace the fluids you lose, the body systems that regulate temperature become overwhelmed. As a result, your body produces more heat than it can release. Heat exhaustion requires immediate attention because it can progress to heat stroke, a life threatening illness.

A 1999 CNN report reminds that “Heatstroke Can Sneak Up and Kill”:

If the symptoms are ignored, the victim can develop potentially lethal heat stroke. The warning signs include an extremely high body temperature 103 degrees or higher hot and dry skin; a rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea or vomiting; confusion and unconsciousness. Heat stroke can happen within 10 to 15 minutes of the first symptoms. If victims don’t get emergency treatment immediately to bring down their body temperature, they can suffer permanent damage to their internal organs or even die.

And the CDC website offers a comprehensive overview of not only the mechanics of death by heat and how to avoid such a fate, but it also breaks out the data showing how many people succumbed to heatstroke (during weather just like what we have right now) between 1999 and 2003.

The number? 3,442.

That’s not a club you want to join. So, stay cool. And if you can’t stay cool, if you detect any of the symptoms mentioned in these articles, get thee to a doctor immediately. Your life might well depend on it.


One Comment

  1. Stephen E Dalton

    Pat, people who are on psychiatric medications are in real danger of heat stroke in this type of killer weather. Many of them can’t afford air conditioning and only have a fan to keep them cool. If any of the readers of this blog want to do something nice, they might consider donating to a charity that sponsers cool rooms that give folks like this a break from the heat.

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