Anyone can get heat stroke; nobody is immune to the effects of a hot, hazy, or humid day.
Still, certain populations tend to experience symptoms of heat illnesses more than others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some health conditions affect the body’s ability to use its best weapons against high temperatures: sweating, increasing blood flow through the vessels, or simply recognizing that they’re starting to feel overheated.
Here are the risk factors and health conditions that raise your risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Your age: People below the age of 4 are less able to sense their own symptoms of heat exhaustion and need to rely on others to take action. Those over age 65 tend to not adapt quickly to changes in temperature, and they are more likely to be on certain medications that affect the body’s thermoregulation. Adults over 65 made up 36 percent of fatalities from heat stroke between 1999 and 2010, according to the CDC.
Heart disease: Having coronary artery disease means your arteries have hardened or narrowed, a condition known as atherosclerosis. This makes it difficult for blood vessels to expand to increase blood flow, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. That may make it difficult for the body to adapt during exercise or under extreme heat. People with heart conditions made up 69 percent of fatalities from heat stroke between 1999 and 2010, according to the CDC.
Obesity: Extra weight tends to cause people to retain more body heat, according to the CDC. Those with high BMIs are also more likely to also suffer from conditions that affect blood circulation, like heart disease. Adults who have obesity are 3.5 times more likely to experience a fatal heat stroke than someone of a healthy body weight, according to a 2010 study.
High blood pressure: The effects of hypertension impair blood flow, which inhibits the body’s ability to cool itself. When someone with high blood pressure exerts energy on a hot day, their BP may raise and cause greater stress on the body’s thermoregulatory capabilities, compared to someone with healthy blood pressure.
Diabetes (type 1 and 2): Both types of diabetes inhibit the blood vessels’ ability to dilate, and the body may delay dilating the blood vessels until the body reaches a higher temperature. Additionally, poorly controlled diabetes may lead to neuropathy—nerve damage—which may alter the person’s ability to sweat.
Respiratory illnesses, like asthma and COPD: Under high heat, the body must work overtime to do basic tasks, including breathing. Extreme heat may trigger respiratory distress, such as asthma attacks.
How to Prevent Heat Stroke
No matter your age, athletic abilities, or health status, staying cool and safe in the sun or humidity can be life-saving. Here’s what experts recommend to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke:
Plan your outdoor activities during cooler times of the day, and stay in the shade whenever possible.
Stay hydrated. Whenever possible, stick to water, and avoid sugary or boozy beverages.
Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing.
Pace yourself and take breaks. If possible, find an indoor, air-conditioned spot to give your body a break.
Wear sunscreen. Sunburn can increase your risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Here are derm-approved tips to apply sunscreen.
Taking the whole family to the park? Don’t forget to keep an eye on your pooch. Here are signs of heat stroke in dogs to look for.