From Headaches to Diarrhoea, How to Combat Heat-Related Illnesses?

Doctors share tips to combat headaches, upset stomach and heat exhaustion.

4 min read
Hindi Female

India has been grappling with a brutal heatwave for the last few weeks with temperatures in parts of the country breaking records every day.

While most indians are acclimatised to hot weather, no one is built to withstand exposure to such extreme heat for long durations.

Doctors tell FIT that heat-related illnesses, especially symptoms of heat exhaustion and stomach issues have become extremely common.

Since March, India has reported over 16,000 cases of heat stroke (extreme stage of heat exhaustion), and over 60 deaths linked to extreme heat, according to government data.

With no respite from the heat in the near future, how can you cope and safeguard your health?


How Does Heat Make You Sick?

Doctors share tips to combat headaches, upset stomach and heat exhaustion.

For one, exposure to direct heat for a long time puts massive stress on your body's natural cooling system, causing heat stress, heat exhaustion and in extreme cases, heat stroke which can be deadly.

"When you are exposed to heat, your body tries to cool itself by sweating, but if you are exposed to heat for a long time or exposed to very high temperatures, your body cannot adapt to that much heat and there is het retention by the body," explains Dr Arvind Khurana, Principal Director, Gastroenterology, FMRI, Gurugram.

"This can lead to overheating of the body, excessive sweating within a small period of time and dehydration," he adds.

Lightheadedness, dizziness, extreme tiredness, nausea and vomiting are all symptoms of heat exhaustion.

According to Dr Sushila Kataria, Senior Director, Internal Medicine, Medanta Gurugram, one can also experience heat exhaustion indoors if the space is not ventilated properly and doesn't have an adequate cooling system.

"Especially in children, elderly, and those who are already unwell or physically incapable of hydrating themselves," she says.

  • Heat and headaches

Dehydration is also one of the main reasons for headaches during extreme heat. "When you're dehydrated, there is less blood flow to your brain which causes headaches," explains Dr Khurana.

Moreover, according to the American Migraine Foundation, extreme heat and humidity can trigger and worsen migraines in those prone to them.

  • Heat and stomach issues

Nausua and vomiting are typical symptoms of heat exhaustion. But, Dr Kataria says she's also been seeing a rise in cases of food and water-borne diseases in the past few weeks.

"Typhoid, hepatitis A, and other types of stomach infections are very common," she says.

This is an optimum temperature for pathogens to multiply, so food tends to spoil very fast in the heat."
Dr Sushila Kataria

Moreover, Dr Khurana says that extreme heat can affect your metabolism and gut flora too.

A study published in the medical journal Nature in April this year found that high temperature and humidity disrupts the release of bile acids, affecting metabolism as well as the health of the gut microbiome. However, the exact reason for this link remains unclear.

Furthermore, the study said that extreme heat can also impact your appitite and immunity which can also indirectly mess with your gut microbiome.

Signs That Your Body Is Overheated

Heat-related illnesses should be taken seriously, say experts.

Heat-related illnesses are tricky to deal with because the symptoms can come on suddenly and escalate quickly if steps aren't taken to hydrate and cool the body.

Heavy sweating, tachycardia (palpitations), rapid pulse and breathlessness are some initial signs of heat stress, says Dr Khurana. Chills and goosebumps in the heat are also a telltale sign of overheating.


Tips to Combat Overheating and Heat Exhaustion 

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    (Photo: Aroop Mishra/FIT)

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    (Photo: Aroop Mishra/FIT)

The first thing to do when you feel symptoms of heat stress come on is to remove yourself to a cooler area if possible.

If you don't have access to a cooler space, take steps to cool down your body in other ways:

  • Apply cold water/ice to specific areas of the body where larger blood vessels are closer to the surface of the skin, like the neck, wrist, chest and temples.

  • Place a wet cloth on your forehead.

  • Spritz your face and feet with cool water.

  • Avoid any physical exercise or exertion.

Another important measure to counter any heat-related illness is ensuring you're well-hydrated. Make sure to drink more water than you normally would, advices Dr Kataria.

"Do not think that drinking a couple of cups of tea and coffee, or even a couple of glasses of water is enough to hydrate you," she warns.

"If you're having heat stress, diarrhoea, vomiting or dehydration, avoid taking sugary drinks because it can worsen the condition."
Dr Arvind Khurana

You do need some sugar to repleish your energy. "The recommended amount of sugar is around one and a half spoons of sugar along with some salt in a glass of water," explains Dr Kataria.

However, excessive sugar can actually be counterproductive because it can worsen dehydration, she adds.

According to both Dr Kataria and Dr Khurana, it's best to stick to water, or better, have coconut water, fresh lime water, or buttermilk, or just keep sipping on ORS.

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Topics:  Heat Wave   Dehydration   Heat Exhaustion 

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