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Heat disorders are a group of physically related illnesses caused by prolonged exposure to hot temperatures, restricted fluid intake, or failure of temperature regulation mechanisms of the body. Disorders of heat exposure include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (also called sunstroke). Hyperthermia is the general name given to heat-related illnesses. The two most common forms of hyperthermia are heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which is especially dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.
Heat disorders are harmful to people of all ages, but their severity is likely to increase as people age. Heat cramps in a 16-year-old may be heat exhaustion in a 45-year-old and heat stroke in a 65-year-old. The body's temperature regulating mechanisms rely on the thermal regulating centers in the brain. Through these complex centers, the body tries to adapt to high temperatures by adjusting the amount of salt in the perspiration. Salt helps the cells in body tissues retain water. In hot weather, a healthy body will lose enough water to cool the body while creating the lowest level of chemical imbalance. Regardless of extreme weather conditions, the healthy human body keeps a steady temperature of approximately 98.6°F (37°C). In hot weather, or during vigorous activity, the body perspires. As perspiration evaporates from the skin, the body is cooled. If the body loses too much salt and fluids, the symptoms of dehydration can occur.
The care of heat cramps includes placing the individual at rest in a cool environment, while giving cool water with a teaspoon of salt per quart, or a commercial sports drink. Usually rest and liquids are all that is needed for the patient to recover. Mild stretching and massaging of the muscle area follows once the condition improves. The individual should not take salt tablets,
Author Info: Jeffrey P. Larson RPT, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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