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Avera Medical Minute: Knowing the difference between Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke

Staying safe during a Summertime heat wave
Published: Aug. 25, 2020 at 11:45 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The recent heat wave that we’ve all been dealing with can really hurt your health if you’re not careful.

We were able to speak with Avera Emergency Medicine physician Dr. Larry VanOeveren about the warning signs that will tell you you’ve been out in the heat a little too long.

The first thing we asked him; why do people not take the health risks of a hot summertime seriously?

Dr. Larry VanOeveren: Sometimes we can all get a little complacent and not think about it when it is so hot and humid. A lot of it is prevention, Brian. So being aware of what the temperatures are going to be doing and planning your activities. Do you really have to go outside? Can you do things earlier maybe when it's not as hot? Or later in the evening? And how you dress. How you hydrate yourself ahead of time and during your activities. So that's a big part of it. and then the other thing is people need to realize when something is going wrong with heat related illness when to seek care or what to do about it.

Brian Allen: Is there anything better than water when it comes to hydration?

Dr. Larry VanOeveren: You know you have to be a little bit careful because some of the drinks that are out there that are marketed are awfully sugary and taste great but they dont have a lot of benefit and that can cause more problems than just plain water. Honestly it probably doesnt taste the best but you know a decent size jug of water mixed in with a spoonful or two of salt might be helpful if you're going to be out there for a really long time. But generally speaking non-caffeinated beverages. Of course non-alcohol containing beverages with the heat and then things like some of the commercially available products that have lower sugar content but still some electrolytes would be helpful.

Brian Allen: You know we hear a lot about Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion...those terms get bandied about this time of year...I think a lot of people are under the misconception that it's the same thing but it's not.

Dr. Larry VanOeveren: Heat Exhaustion is typically going to be more of your....some sweating, a little bit of elevated temperature, maybe a little bit of elevation in heart rate, maybe some mild cramping, some fatigue, you know perhaps a slight headache and those often times are managed just with removing yourself from the situation and drinking lots of water. And sometimes those patients end up in the Emergency Department and we treat them with some fluids and they generally get better and go home but Heat Stroke is the much more worrisome form which is all those symptoms but the biggest differentiator is the presence of altered mental state status. So when these patients come into the Emergency Department with true Heat Stroke often times they're most definitely altered. But often times they're even unresponsive and can have massive swings in their temperature to 105 degrees, lack of sweating which is a big concern for us, seizures....a whole multitude of things.

For more information on taking care of yourself in the heat just head over to Avera.org .

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