Heat stroke – a preventable disaster

By Muhammad Qasim
May 20, 2024
People cover heir heads with wet towels during a heatwave. — AFP/File

Islamabad:Extreme hot weather is persisting in most parts of the country including the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi and a more severe heat wave expected this week has convinced almost all the stakeholders including the concerned government authorities at the federal and the provincial levels to take necessary actions to safeguard population from the deadly effects of the heat-related illnesses.


There are chances of significant increase in the number of serious heat-related threats like heat stroke that is considered as the most severe form of heat-related illnesses with mortality rate ranging from 10 per cent to 80 per cent.

Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat-related illness is defined as a body temperature higher than 40.6 degree Celsius (105.1 degree Fahrenheit) due to environmental heat exposure. Studies reveal that heat stroke can be avoided by adopting simple preventive measures however in cases of delay in treatment, the mortality rate of heat stroke can be as high as 80 per cent. Early diagnosis and cooling may reduce mortality rate to 10 per cent.

Office of the District Health Officer Islamabad at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination has already issued a detailed heat wave advisory for the general public asking individuals to take immediate necessary measures. The advisory issued by the DHO Islamabad Dr. Muhammad Zaeem Zia states that heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

Generally, the symptoms of heat stroke include profuse sweating or the absence of sweating with hot red or flushed dry skin, weakness, lethargy, chills, throbbing headache, high body temperature, hallucinations, confusion, dizziness and slurred speech and if one is having any of the symptoms, he or she should immediately be taken to the nearest healthcare facility.

The advisory states that infants, elderly persons, athletes and outdoor workers are at high risk for heat stroke. Heat/sun stroke is a preventable condition. Common preventive measures include: Avoid going outside during the hottest time of the day. Avoid strenuous physical activity if you can. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 04:00 AM and 07:00 AM. Stay in the shade.

Do not leave children or animals in parked vehicles. Drink plenty of water while limiting time in direct sunlight in hot weather or in places with high environmental temperatures, avoid becoming dehydrated and refrain from vigorous physical activities in hot and humid weather, states the advisory.

The heat wave advisory further suggests that persons working under the sun should prevent dehydration and heat stroke by taking time out of the sun and drinking plenty of water/fluids. The patients should avoid use of caffeine and sugar containing soft drinks and/or tea, which may exacerbate dehydration.

Consume salty foods, use umbrella, and wear hats, light coloured, light and loose-fitting clothes during the hot/humid environmental conditions, said the DHO. Keep the body cool and hydrated by taking cool showers or baths during a heat wave. You can also use cold packs and wraps, towels, sponging, and foot baths to keep cool. The advisory states that if you feel dizzy, weak, anxious or have intense thirst and headache during a heat wave, it is best to move to a cool place as soon as possible and measure your body temperature. Drink some water or fruit juice to rehydrate.

If you have painful muscular spasms particularly in the legs, arms or abdomen, rest immediately in a cool place and drink oral rehydration solutions (ORS) containing electrolytes. Medical attention is needed if heat cramps last for more than one hour. The heat wave advisory suggests that victims of heat stroke must receive immediate treatment/management.