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Dangerous heat!

heat strokeIt’s the time of year that anyone who has lived in Reno for more than a year knows all too well – we typically have at least a week-long stretch of 100-degree heat, and no, “dry heat” does not make it any less sweltering, people!

Temperatures this high can be very dangerous for our pets, pregnant women, the elderly, and babies, but also for anyone else who is outdoors and not paying attention!

Let’s walk through what different types of heat-related illness are and what you can do to recognize it early!

  • Heat cramps are the mildest form of illness related to heat exposure and cause just what the name says – muscle cramping/spasms with activity in the heat. You might also notice heavy perspiration with exertion, and if you have these symptoms you should get to a cooler area and drink some water and/or beverages with electrolytes.
  • Heat exhaustion is more serious, and the real difference here is while you may still be sweating heavily and have muscle cramping, your skin tends to be more cool/clammy, and you might notice your heart pounding in your chest. You might also have nausea and vomiting, a headache, be dizzy, and even pass out. Anyone with these symptoms needs attention quickly and should be moved to a cooler place immediately, with clothing either removed or cool, damp towels placed on them, placed in a cool bath, and encouraged to sip water.
  • Heatstroke is the most severe form of heat-related illness; the biggest red flag to watch for is your skin becoming hot, dry and red with body temps over 103 degrees. You will also likely notice nausea, vomiting, headaches and passing out as above but also some mental confusion. This is a medical emergency and the first priority is calling 911 as you are moving the person to a cooler area, removing clothing and placing cool towels on them or putting them in a cool bath. Of note, you actually want to avoid giving someone with heat stroke anything to drink as this can cause vomiting and make the situation worse. If action isn’t taken quickly heat stroke can absolutely lead to permanent brain damage or death, although these complications are rare.
Here’s the take home message: avoid heavy exertion in the extreme heat of the day, and if you must be out and about when it’s this hot, take lots of fluids and pay attention to how your body is feeling. While I don’t endorse sugary sports drinks (like Gatorade), it is important to make sure you are drinking something with electrolytes in it or replacing them with foods when sweating it out in the heat – NOT just drinking plain water. You lose a lot of electrolytes in your sweat (think post-workout salty skin) and if you just drink water, it can be dangerous and interfere with the normal salt balance in your body.
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About Amanda Magrini

Amanda Magrini
Amanda Magrini, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician at Northern Nevada Medical Group’s Los Altos location in Sparks. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Nevada, Reno and her medical training at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Dr. Magrini has practiced family medicine for seven years, including residency, and enjoys her specialty, because she likes taking care of the whole family, from newborns to grandparents. She likes preventative medicine, helping people take care of themselves and the relationships she is able to form with her patients. Dr. Magrini grew up in Sparks, NV and likes that it is a safe place to live with great educational opportunities and beautiful scenery. She thinks Northern Nevada is a great place to raise a family and looks forward to raising her own children here. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, camping, boating, running and traveling the world. Dr. Magrini is also very close with her family; she is married to her high school sweetheart and values spending time with him and the rest of her family. Disclosure: "The author is a licensed physician practicing with Northern Nevada Medical Group, but all opinions expressed are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Northern Nevada Medical Group or any other affiliates of Universal Health Services, Inc."

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