Why Does Dehydration Lead to Heat Stroke?

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when the amount of water a human body loses exceeds the amount that is consumed. Dehydration can be caused by a number of different conditions, including profuse sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, frequent urination or from systemic conditions like diabetes. This loss of moisture has an effect on the entire physical system. The loss of electrolytes in the body can also causes physical effects.

Dehydration Symptoms

Those who fail to replenish the needed water in their cells begin to feel symptoms such as dry mouth, weakness in muscles, lethargy, headache and dizziness. Children and older people are particularly susceptible to dehydration and can suffer more extreme symptoms, such as sunken eyes and cheeks, shriveled skin, a lack of ability to sweat, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, less frequent urination, fever, delirium and unconsciousness. According to Dr. Susan Shireffs of the Biomedical Science Department at Aberdeen University, this occurs because the lack of fluid creates less blood volume, so there is less blood available for vital organs like the heart, the brain and muscles.

Treating Dehydration

Mild dehydration can be treated at home with increased fluids. Sports drinks can restore body fluids, electrolytes and salt balance. Children who are suffering from dehydration are given Pedialyte, which is an electrolyte solution specifically formulated for children. More severe cases of dehydration may require IV infusion of fluids at the hospital or emergency room.

How Heat Stroke Occurs

Heat stroke is a severe heat-related condition that occurs when the body's cooling system begins to fail. Untreated dehydration can lead to this life-threatening condition. When a person cannot sweat enough to cool the body because of extreme heat or lack of fluids, the internal temperature of the body can rise to a dangerously high level. The person can be become dizzy and confused, or have a headache or mental confusion. The skin becomes dry because there is no longer an ability to cool the body. A rapid heartbeat or unconsciousness can occur. There can be seizures or hallucinations.

Treating Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can cause permanent damage to organs or even death. Medical treatment should be sought as soon as possible. In the meantime, get the person inside, out of the hot sun and heat. Apply cool water to the person's skin to bring down body temperature. Apply ice packs to armpit and groin areas. Find a cool place for the person to lie down and elevate the feet slightly. Intravenous fluids and bed rest is often needed after heat stroke.