Dangers Of Summer: Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion And Heatstroke 


October 26, 2005 

Tips From UCSD Healthcare Scripps Ranch Clinic

Summer has finally arrived in San Diego and with the higher temperatures comes the possibility of becoming dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when the body loses too much fluid and can occur at any age, but it is most dangerous for babies, small children, and older adults.

“Sweating, strenuous exercise or not drinking water can cause dehydration. Body muscles can begin to get tired and a person may experience leg cramps or feel faint,” said Martin Kabongo, M.D., Ph.D., Family Medicine, UCSD Healthcare Scripps Ranch Clinic.

Severe dehydration happens when there is no longer enough fluid in the body to get blood to the organs. The symptoms include weakness, unusual headache, muscle cramps, impaired judgment, confusion, and sudden loss of consciousness. Anyone who develops any of these symptoms should contact their personal physician or go to the nearest emergency department.

Babies and small children are at a high risk of dehydration because their bodies have high amounts of water. Children often don’t drink or eat when they don’t feel well. Parents and caregivers need to keep them supplied with food and fluids, especially during high temperatures.

“Seniors are also at risk and may experience lightheadedness or feel faint when dehydrated,” said Kabongo. “It’s important for them to remember to keep hydrated when it’s hot.”

Seniors should avoid extreme heat and humidity. They are prone to heat-related illness because they are more likely to have chronic diseases and take medications, and the body’s natural mechanisms for maintaining normal body temperature slow down.

Heat exhaustion is a condition in which the body temperature may be subnormal. It can occur in people who are exposed to extreme heat for long periods of times, such as foundry workers or people who work in furnace rooms, but can also be experienced during prolonged recreational activities outdoors and in other ways. Heat exhaustion is marked by nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache and sometimes delirium or collapse.

Mild cases of heat exhaustion can be treated at home, usually by removing the person from the heat source, and rehydrating them by having them drink fluids. It may also be necessary to seek medical advice from their personal physician.

Heat exhaustion can sometimes lead to heatstroke, a serious condition caused by exposure to excessive heat, natural or artificial, which requires emergency treatment. It is marked by dry skin (a person with heatstroke may stop sweating and have red, hot, dry skin even under the armpits), vertigo, headache, thirst, nausea, muscular cramps, confusion, delirium or unconsciousness. Body temperature may be dangerously elevated.

Since all these forms of heat illness have some common symptoms, it is wise to consult a personal physician for advice on what steps to take.

UCSD Healthcare Scripps Ranch is a Family Medicine clinic that provides preventive and primary health care for each family member, from newborns through seniors. A family practitioner is the personal physician for the whole family, providing on-going care in both the office and hospital. Patients can consider the UCSD Family Medicine, Scripps Ranch Clinic one-stop medical care located at 9909 Mira Mesa Blvd. Suite 200.

The Clinic hours are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a Thursday evening clinic until 8:00 p.m. To make an appointment, call (858) 657-7750.


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