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Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the most common form of heat illness. It is defined as the inability to continue exercise in the heat. The following description of severe heat exhaustion was given by American distance runner Todd Williams, after collapsing in the run at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Indiana, in June :

I started feeling a little bit of chill and my legs went numb. Then I just went out [fainted]. That’s the hardest I have ever run, and the wheels came off

We were running over our heads for these conditions, but that’s what you have to do to improve. I wouldn’t want to recommend to everyone that they pass out [faint], but sometimes you have to push the envelope. Reprinted courtesy of Boston Globe

The meteorological conditions at the time of this event wereF and rh high risk category, see figure Williams and teammate Bob Kennedy, who won the race in :, were trying to set a pace to finish between : and :. This was equivalent to running three consecutive miles in : each, without stopping!

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Williamscomment about running over our heads is important to your understanding that heat exhaustion involves the inability of the cardiovascular system to sustain strenuous exercise. When challenged with multiple stressors such as heat, humidity, dehydration, high-intensity exercise, the central nervous system causes adaptive responses in the heart and blood vessels that alter the heart rate and stroke volume see section above titled Cardiovascular Responses to Heat and Humidity, pageHowever, when the intensity and duration of exercise are great or when a large dehydration exists, cardiovascular compensation cannot meet the demand of supplying blood to both muscle and skin, and heat exhaustion eventually occurs unless exercise is terminated.

Causes of Heat Exhaustion

For the otherof humanity, those of us who are not elite athletes, heat exhaustion usually is not due to pushing one’s body beyond its limits. It is caused primarily by depletion of circulating fluid plasma, which results in inadequate cardiovascular compensation. This explains why it is often said that heat exhaustion is a fluid depletion problem. When fluids are replaced, the medical signs and symptoms vanish. If fluids are replaced orally, electrolyte solutions NaCl solution may be used when patients are conscious. In more severe heat exhaustion cases, IV solutions are recommended. A physician will examine pulse, blood pressure, and changes in these measures on standing to determine the contents of the IV solution NaCl, dextrose. Rapid recovery occurs after IV fluids are administered for – min.

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