By Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD  (

With record high temperatures this summer, women should take proper precautions to stay hydrated and protected from the extreme heat. This is crucial for overall health and wellness.

The fireworks may not be all that we see in the sky this Fourth of July as much of the country deals with prolonged and excessive heat due to a “heat dome.” According to Accuweather, a heat dome is a sprawling and unusually intense area of high pressure that results in sinking air and sunny, storm-free conditions for the areas it covers.

When people are exposed to extreme heat, they can suffer from potentially deadly illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Hot temperatures can also contribute to deaths from heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of cardiovascular disease. Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States, even though most heat-related deaths are preventable through outreach and intervention (see the EPA’s Excessive Heat Events Guidebook).

“Heatstroke” is a common term used to describe two distinct entities:(1) Severe, non-exertional hyperthermia (overheating of the body) that generally affects the young, disabled, elderly, poor, or those who are iso-lated because of mental illness. (2) Exertional heat illness which mostly affects otherwise healthy adults and adolescents. These two groups are linked due to underlying causes and effects like too much heat or sun exposure along with a lack of hydration and future health impacts like extreme elevations of body temperature leading to bodily dysfunction.

Heat exhaustion sometimes occurs when a person exercises and works in a hot environment, and the body cannot cool itself adequately. Dehydration happens with water loss from excessive sweating, which can cause muscle cramps, weakness, nausea, and vomiting. This makes it difficult to drink enough fluids to replenish the body’s water supply, and the lack of body water impairs further sweating, evaporation, and cooling. If the humidity is too high, sweat on the skin cannot evaporate which makes the body’s temperature cooling system fail.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are caused by environmental conditions. As outside temperatures rise, the body reacts by sweating. This evaporation of water from the skin and respiratory tract is the most effective way of ridding the body of excess heat. Less effective reductions in temperature occur from the direct radiation of heat into the environment. This results in the transfer of heat to air or liquids moving over the body. These normal cooling mechanisms become ineffective when the humidity rises above 75% and the air temperature rises above normal body temperature.

Recognize the most common signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and get treatment early to prevent heat stroke:

1. Confusion
2. Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
3. Dizziness
4. Fainting
5. Fatigue
6. Headache
7. Muscle or abdominal cramps
8. Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea


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