Heat Disorders - Description
Hyperthermia can cause harm to people of all ages. But its effects are more serious with increasing age. The conditions that cause heat cramps in a teenager may cause a more serious form of hyperthermia—heat exhaustion—in a middle-aged person. Those same conditions may cause even more serious effects in an older person, a form of hyperthermia known as heat stroke.
The human body functions normally only within a very narrow range of temperatures close to 98.6°F (37°C). If the body gets much warmer or much colder than 98.6°F, health problems develop. Raising or lowering the body temperature by only a few degrees can cause death in a short period of time.
The body's temperature control center is in the brain. It senses changes in internal and external temperatures. It determines the changes that must be made to keep body temperature at 98.6°F. It then relays instructions to the body's cells to make these changes.
One method the body uses to cool down is perspiring (sweating). Perspiration is the loss of water from the skin. Body heat provides the energy needed to evaporate water from the skin. The more a person perspires, the cooler the body becomes.
However, excessive perspiration can cause problems. The body may lose too much water. It may become dehydrated. Dehydration can cause a variety of medical problems.
- Chemicals that occur naturally in the body and that maintain the proper balance of fluids in the body.
- The general name for any form of heat disorder.
Heat cramps are the least serious form of hyperthermia. They are the first sign that the body is having difficulty with increased temperature. Heat cramps are a warning sign that more serious problems may soon develop.
Heat exhaustion is more serious than heat cramps. The condition may be caused when a person is exposed to high temperatures for a long period of time. Or the body may become dehydrated, or its temperature regulation system may begin to fail. Heat exhaustion is a common problem among athletes, firefighters, construction and factory workers, and anyone who wears heavy clothing in hot weather.
Heat stroke is the most serious form of hyperthermia. The condition can cause death in a short period of time. Heat stoke often results in death. The conditions that lead to heat stroke are the same as those that cause heat exhaustion. However, those conditions cause more serious symptoms in the case of heat stroke.