Three life-saving steps to avoid heat stroke.

Rob Lamberts, MD
5-minute read
Episode #53

It’s July. To many folks that means happy things like picnics, camping, and scaring the cat with firecrackers (which I deny completely).  To those of us living in my home state of Georgia, however, it means one thing: heat.  For us, July is a month of hot cars, high electricity bills, and humidity. Not only is the financial cost of the heat high, the physical cost can also be very high.

This article will cover the problems people can have when they get overheated. The body is meant to run at a specific temperature, and getting too hot can make you sick? Before talking about the problems of overheating, I first need to explain how the body regulates its temperature.

What Is Normal Body Temperature?

Most of you probably know what normal body temperature is: 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (see my episode about fevers for more). But this is only a partial truth. Different parts of the body operate at different temperatures, and the whole body changes its normal temperature based on the time of day, age, hormones, and a host of other factors. But even with all of these factors, the body does its best to keep its temperature close to 98.6 for the most important organs.

What Is Hyperthermia?

Take frequent breaks to drink, even if you don't feel thirsty.

The temperatures for your vital organs is what is known as the core body temperature. The chemical reactions in and the physical qualities of your heart, liver, kidneys, and brain all work best around the 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If the core temperature gets too cold, a condition known as hypothermia, the vital organs stop working well and a person can die. Conversely, if the temperature gets too high, a condition called hyperthermia, the vital organs also stop working well and put the person’s life in danger.

How Does Your Body Fight Hyperthermia?

So when you get too hot, your body does several things to cool you off and keep the core body temperature close to normal:

  • It increases the blood flow to your arms and legs, which let off heat and cool the body.

  • It makes you sweat. When the sweat evaporates, it takes heat from your body and cools you down. You feel cooler when sweat evaporates on your skin for the same reason you feel cold when you get out of the shower before you’ve dried off.

  • It slows you down. Moving muscles burn energy and let off heat. When you get too hot, your body makes you feel more tired in an attempt to slow you down so you stop making so much heat.

  • If all else fails, your brain gets the message: get out of the heat, you idiot! You feel terrible getting so hot.


Medical Disclaimer
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.