Dr. Reed Q & A – Heatstroke: Causes and Prevention

Reed V. Tuckson, MD, is Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group. A Fellow of the American College of Physicians, Dr. Reed is a nationally recognized speaker on preventive health and clinical medicine.


Q:   Dear Dr. Reed:

I am 75 years old, live inFloridaand golf almost every day.   If I don’t drink enough fluids, could I develop heatstroke? What symptoms should I look for?

A:   It’s wonderful that you are active, but be sure to protect yourself from the heat and high humidity.  Older adults such as you, people who don’t drink enough fluids and people with certain medical conditions or who take certain medications are at higher risk for problems from heat and humidity.  I strongly urge you to review your health history and medications with your doctor regularly to see if you are at risk for heat related problems.

Mild symptoms of heat related illness include an increase in your body temperature, headaches, unusual thirst, dizziness, and a fast heartbeat.  If you experience any of these symptoms, move to a cool location, drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids, take a shower or apply moist cool towels to your body. Medicines typically used to treat a fever do not work for an elevated body temperature caused by hot conditions.

Of even greater concern is heatstroke, which is a life threatening condition and can be recognized by dramatically elevated body temperatures, little or no sweating, strange behavior, seizures and even coma.  This requires urgent emergency medical care.

As always, it’s safest to avoid problems before they start.  Remember when you are outside in the sun to stay hydrated by drinking nonalcoholic beverages early and often, dress in light-weight loose fitting clothing, wear a hat and use common sense when it comes to exerting yourself at the hottest time of the day.

Ask your doctor if you have medical conditions or take medications that may put you at risk for heat related illness.

Do you have questions about your health? There is so much information out there that it can be hard to make sense of it all and, more importantly, apply it in our own lives. Dr. Reed Tuckson, Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group, hears this all the time as he travels the country speaking about preventive healthcare and clinical medicine and talking to readers of the “Ask Dr. Reed Q&A” column or his book, The Doctor in the Mirror. Dr. Reed cannot provide individual responses but he may address your idea in a future column, which you can read right here on Facebook. If you are seeking personal advice, please consult your doctor, specialist, or nurse.