Doctors warn about heat-related illnesses over summer months

POSTED: 6:43 PM Jun 14 2013   UPDATED: 9:05 PM Jun 14 2013
Summer heat
ABILENE, Texas -

Whether you plan to spend the summer months working or playing outdoors, health experts want to remind you to be aware of how your body responds to the West Texas heat.

Heat-related illnesses can affect your brain, heart, kidneys and liver. Ignoring the warning signs of the illnesses can be fatal.

“Symptoms of heat exhaustion include really non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and occasionally diarrhea,” Dr. Brian Sorensen, an emergency room physician at Hendrick Medical Center, said. “It's when symptoms reach severity to include confusion--or even an inability to sweat--this is when severity is very high and mortality is very high."

But Sorensen said the good news is: Heat-related illnesses are 100 percent preventable.

“It may seem obvious but the simple things are the simple ways to avoid illness,” Sorensen said. “Staying out of the heat, cool water, dressing lightly with light colors and for those who are at most risk who are outdoors working, [in the] military, construction workers and athletes, getting out of the heat for a short period, even 30 minutes when you have a break, can do a lot.”

Though thirst is not the first indicator of dehydration, Sorensen said it is important to stay away from alcohol and caffeine when working or playing outdoors. Instead, he said people need to drink water or electrolyte-based beverages before, during and after any outdoor activity.

Sorensen said prescription medications such as beta or calcium channel blockers, diuretics, sedatives and seizure medications increase a person’s risk of succumbing to heat-related illnesses, especially in elderly people. Over the counter anti-histamines can also lead to complications.