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Heat Exhaustion

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Appendix F: Glossary

Heat exhaustion is excessive fluid loss due to sweating, resulting in the depletion of body fluid volume, which creates an imbalance of the electrolytes in our system.

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

The initial signs is when dehydration occurs. You usually have a rapid pulse rate prior to passing out. This is due to your heart trying to pump enough blood to your brain. After your heart is unsuccessful, you will pass out. You will now have a slow and thready pulse. Other signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include gradual weakness, nausea, anxiety, and possible passing out. Skin is usually pale and clammy or cold, pulse slows and blood pressure may drop. The victim may complain of weakness. Excessive sweating, as opposed to the dry skin in heat stroke, is a common symptom of heat exhaustion. Following these symptoms, the victim may appear to be in shock. Temperatures may range from 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is difficult to differentiate heat exhaustion from other diagnoses like insulin shock or traumatic shock. If you are in the outdoors, the environment is hot, and a companion without a history of diabetes should develop the above symptoms, it is somewhat easier to make the diagnosis. The prognosis is very good in heat exhaustion as opposed to heat stroke.

Heat Exhaustion Treatment

Outdoor Treatment for Heat Exhaustion
In an outdoor setting, it is important to first pull remove the individual from direct sunlight and into a shaded area. The victim should be laid flat, or with their head lower than their feet. Begin to replace fluids orally, in small amounts. It is important not to push fluids too much, to avoid fluid overload.

Healthcare Provider - Medical Treatment
Treatment of heat exhaustion when properly diagnosed is fairly simple. Very cool environment, administering glucose and cooling the individual off is essential. Take cool wet towels, or ice packs if available, put them under the arms, the groin area and behind the neck of the individual. It is important to note that you should fan these wet towels, as the cooling process is actually the act of evaporation, which decreases body temperature. You also should check urine for Rhabdomyolysis, and you want to do an extensive neurological exam. If there are any neurological signs or symptoms, then we most likely are dealing with heat stroke, not heat exhaustion, which is more of a medical emergency. Please be advised, thanks to Eric A. Weiss, M.D., Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, who brings home the point that you do not have to be diaphoretic with heat stroke. Many cases are misdiagnosed. So please be advised that individuals do not have to have dry skin to be diagnosed with heat stroke. For further treatment on heat stroke, please visit Survive Outdoors section on heat stroke.

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