Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Understanding and Preventing Heat Related Illness

High temperatures present an unique challenge to people with cystic fibrosis (CF).When the body is subjected to higher temperatures, it responds by producing an artificial fever. The skin appears flushed or reddish because blood surges to the skin surface. A portion of the body's water content appears on the skin surface as sweat. The body's natural way to cool itself is to sweat. Salt is a natural component of sweat, but in people with CF, the amount of salt that gets secreted is abnormally high.

Because people with CF tend to secrete high concentrations of salt in the sweat, they are prone to electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and even heat exhaustion. Humid conditions pose an additional risk, because the moisture content in the air can interfere with the body's ability to produce sweat droplets.

The most common heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat-stroke. When the body cannot cool itself, any of these conditions can occur. Patients with CF are likely to experience heat exhaustion and heat cramps when the body loses fluid, salt (also called electrolytes), and other essential nutrients. Heat related illness is also more likely to occur in people who are deficient in vitamins and minerals such as potassium and magnesium.

Preventing these complications is simple. Be sure to drink plenty of water and consume salty snack. Many people with cystic fibrosis enjoy snacking on pretzels. They are a good source of salt, complex carbohydrates, and are easily digested because they contain no fat. Sports beverages are preferable since they contain electrolytes to replace what the body loses when sweating. Bananas are also a calorie-rich snack that contains the important electrolyte, Potassium. People with cystic fibrosis are encouraged to add extra salt to their meals during hotter months. Small amounts of table salt can be added to drinking water as well to help guard against heat-related illness. People with cystic fibrosis should be careful not to overexert themselves in warmer weather. They should also avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine or natural diuretics.

Severe heat-stroke may lead to death. As the blood from the brain flows to other parts of the body in an attempt to cool it down, the brain is unable to carry out normal function. No longer able to cool itself through sweating, the body temperature climbs as blood pressure drops. Victims of heat-stroke may collapse and pass out, never to regain consciousness. The body's central nervous system, spinal cord, brain and vital organs can be irreparably damaged. Every year emergency rooms are flooded with people who fall victim to heat stroke.

WebMD Understanding Heat-Related Illness
10 Steps to Preventing Heat Stroke
Avoid Heat-Stroke

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