The BBC News has reported that a tragedy has occurred in India. Over 1,800 lives have been lost and many are still in the hospital from a heatwave. Temperatures have soared to as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit. The Telangana and Andra Pradash provinces have been the hardest hit areas. March through April are warm months in India, but this week, the temperatures have been higher than ever.
When outside temperatures rise, the body’s temperature also increases. The body tries to compensate by sweating and dilating the blood vessels which dissipates heat, but sometimes the body cannot stay cool. The body is overwhelmed by the heat. The elderly and young are more vulnerable. Those who live alone or confined to bed are at increased risk. The elderly population has an older thermo-regulatory system and are more at risk in these elevated temperatures. The heart, lungs, and kidneys just are not as efficient as we age. Those with thyroid, adrenal or other medical problems are at a higher risk. Individuals on certain psychiatric medications and those taking diuretics, antihistamines and anticholinergic must be cautious. Stimulants which increase the metabolism and those who drink alcohol can have a more difficult time regulating body temperatures.
What are the symptoms? When hyperthermia strikes, the enzymes involved in metabolism malfunction. A person may have heavy sweating, muscle cramps, headaches, act confused, or become exhausted. As the body tries to compensate, the loss of water volume may lead to dizziness, fast heart rates, and low blood pressure. Nausea, vomiting, and a state of acidosis could occur. This state of low blood pressure, leading to decreased tissue perfusion with oxygen and nutrients, could lead to organ failure. In children, high temperatures might precipitate seizures. As you can see hyperthermia should be taken very seriously.
What can we do to help ourselves and those we serve?
1- Recognize the symptoms of hyperthermia early.
2- Drink water to keep the body hydrated. Water is needed for thermo-regulation.
3- Rest and stay in the shade. The rest will lower your metabolism.
4- Dress lightly.
5- Have water on your head and body. A wet headband or a misty spray will help the skin stay moist for evaporation which lowers the temperature.
6- Find places with air movement. Use or make a fan. Open the windows if indoors.
7- Make sure no medications are being used which could lead to problems regulating temperature.
In severe circumstances bath tubs with cold water, IV hydration, putting ice solutions in the stomach, and cool blankets are used to cool the body. There are other special cooling systems that can be used in dire situations. We must guard against this medical emergency. Preventing the problem is the key. Also, recognizing the condition early and initiating treatment to lower the temperature could save your life or the life of another. India needs our prayers!