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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 regulating 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, the latter of which is especially dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.
The thermal regulation centers of the brain help to maintain the body's internal temperature. 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. The thermal regulating centers in the brain help the body adapt to high temperatures by adjusting the amount of salts (electrolytes) in the perspiration. Electrolytes help the cells in body tissues maintain water balance. In hot weather, a healthy body will lose enough water to cool the body while creating the lowest level of electrolyte imbalance. If the body loses too much salt and fluid, symptoms of dehydration will occur.
The care of heat cramps includes placing the child at rest in a cool environment, while giving cool water with a teaspoon of salt per quart, or a commercial sports drink (e.g. Gatorade). Usually, rest and liquids are all that is needed for the child to recover. Mild stretching and massaging of the muscles may be helpful once the condition improves. The child should not take salt tablets, because such a high concentration of salt may actually worsen the condition. When the cramps stop, the person usually can begin light activity again if there are no other signs of illness. The child needs to continue drinking fluids and should be watched carefully for further signs of heat-related illnesses.
Author Info: Tish Davidson A.M., Jeffrey P. Larson RPT, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006
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