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Hyperthermia is a catchall termthat refers to a range of heat-related illnesses. In hot weather, people tendto spend most of their time outdoors, and this is the time of the year whenhyperthermia may occur, so people, especially the elderly ones, should try toprevent health problems associated with seasonal heat. A healthy individual maintains abody temperature at 98.60 Fin all weather conditions, but when exposed to heat and strenuous physicalactivity, the body sweats and is thus cooled. Hyperthermia occurs when the bodycan no longer respond to the challenges of prolonged exposure to heat. There arenumbers of health factors that increase the risk of it, and they include poorcirculation, inefficient sweat glands and changes on the skin as a result ofthe normal aging process. Lung, heart and kidney illnesses, and all conditionsresulting in general weakness, fever or high blood pressure, make a person moresusceptible to hyperthermia.

If the person’s ability toperspire is affected by low-sodium diets, diuretics, sedatives andtranquilizers, or heart and blood pressure medication, they are at a greaterrisk. Alcohol intake and person’s weight (be it significantly over or below theprescribed standards) also affect one’s response to heat. Lifestyle factors contributing tothe contraction of a heat-related illness include overdressing, extremely hotliving conditions, lack of transportation that would enable people to retreatfrom the heat, going to over-crowded places and not understandingweather-related risks.

Hyperthermia occurs in manyforms. Hot weather puts a strain on thebody and the person experiences what is called heat stress, where as a result of hightemperature, the person may experience a feeling of weakness, low pulse, cooland moist skin, which is known as heat fatigue. When exercising in the heat,people can get a sudden dizzy spell or heat syncope. Heart rate is faster andthe pulse weakens, while the skin turns pale, moist and cool, but the personmaintains their normal body temperature. Demanding physical activity can causespasms in abdominal and limb muscles due to the lack of salt in the body, and theseare called heat cramps. Cold and clammy skin, thirst, nausea, weakness, andexcess perspiration are signs of heat exhaustion, and although the bodytemperature and the pulse remain normal, this is the warning that the body hasoverheated.

Heat stroke is a dangerous andpotentially fatal occurrence, and elevated pulse, confusion, strange behavior; staggering, faintness and belligerence are characteristic symptoms. The person’stemperature rises to over 1040 Fwith the possibility of going into delirium or coma. Physical exam andimmediate symptoms are enough to diagnose hyperthermia. While heat strokerequires urgent medical attention, heat exhaustion can be treated without havingto go to the hospital. The victim is moved from the sun to a cool, possiblyair-conditioned place, encouraged to lie down and rest and take a shower or abath. Fluids, including water and fruit juice, help rehydrate the body, while alcoholand caffeine are not recommended.

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