Byrd dead from heat exhaustion, heat stroke

Senator Robert Byrd, 92, the longest serving senator in US history has died. The West Virginia senator died peacefully at about 3 a.m. at Inova Hospital in Fairfax, Va, a spokesman for the family told the Associated Press. Initially it was reported that the senator was suffering from dehydration and symptoms of heat exhaustion, but other medical conditions developed.

People suffer heat-related illness when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions that can limit the ability to regulate temperature include old age, youth (age 0-4), obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug use and alcohol use.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, those with high blood pressure, and those working or exercising in a hot environment.

What are the warning signs of heat exhaustion?

The warning signs of heat exhaustion include the following:

    • Heavy sweating
    • Paleness
    • Muscle cramps
    • Tiredness
    • Weakness
    • Dizziness
    • Headache
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Fainting

    The skin may be cool and moist. The pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. See medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.

    What steps can be taken to cool the body during heat exhaustion?

    • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
    • Rest.
    • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
    • Seek an air-conditioned environment.
    • Wear lightweight clothing.

    What is heat stroke?

    Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

    What are the warning signs of a heat stroke?

    Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:

    • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
    • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
    • Rapid, strong pulse
    • Throbbing headache
    • Dizziness
    • Nausea
    • Confusion
    • Unconsciousness

    What should I do if I see someone with any of the warning signs of heat stroke?

    If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim. Do the following:

    • Get the victim to a shady area.
    • Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
    • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
    • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
    • Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
    • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

    Source: Center for Disease Control

    Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

    1 Comment

    1. Creela Shelton

      September 15, 2010 at 1:49 am

      What is the findings. the medical differences in death by heat stroke or carbon monoxide poisonsing or can the heat exhaustion cause a person to be so sick to get himself up and around to turn on and off generators after working all day in 100 degree heat?

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