K-State Research and Extension News
June 28, 2012
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Hot Weather Triggers Heat-Stress Trilogy

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Air temperatures above 100 degrees can trigger a human heat-stress trilogy: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

“Heat cramps are the mildest reaction. They occur when you don’t replace the salt or potassium lost in sweat,” said Mary Knapp, climatologist with the Kansas Weather Data Library.

Heat exhaustion is more severe, she said. It sometimes results when people engage in vigorous summertime activities (e.g. football, tennis, running, soccer).

Heat exhaustion means the body’s cooling system is overloaded, but hasn’t shut down. Symptoms can include heavy sweating (i.e., clammy skin), headache, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps and fatigue.

“When people reach that point, you need to get them into a cooler location, lying down with their feet slightly elevated. Then try to lower their body temperature with cool, wet cloths. Give them water or an electrolyte drink. Monitor them for an hour to see that their symptoms improve, not worsen,” Knapp said.

The deadliest trilogy member is heat stroke: when the body’s cooling system has shut down – stopped. A defining symptom is 104-degree or higher body temperature.

“Heat stroke is a 911 situation. The risk increases along with the severity of symptoms and the length of delay in getting medical treatment. Even if victims survive, untreated heatstroke can damage their brain, heart, kidneys and muscles,” Knapp warned.

Other symptoms include lack of sweat (unless exercise was involved), racing pulse, rapid breathing, flushed skin that’s hot and dry, vomiting, confusion, muscle malfunctions, seizures, and even unconsciousness.

“Heat stroke victims need help while waiting for the ambulance. Minutes count,” Knapp advised. “You can move them out of the sun. Put cold, wet towels or ice packs on their head, neck, armpits and groin. Remove excess clothing. Turn on a fan, mist them with water … do whatever you can, but quickly.”


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Kathleen Ward
K-State Research & Extension News

Mary Knapp is at 785-532-7019