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Clinical Professionals
This Months Featured Article

Heat Stroke Risk and Medication

Anti-psychotic medication, also known as neuroleptic medication, is a major risk factor in heat wave alerts. Persons taking these medications have a high probability of experiencing heat related disorders and should take extra caution in hot weather.  

During the summer of 1995, there were twenty-four deaths in Milwaukee from heat stroke. Of these, fifteen also involved psychiatric medications. These medications also increase the possibility of extreme sunburn.  

Diuretics, taken for high blood pressure and heart disease, remove salt and fluid volume from the body. Coupled with perspiring from high temperatures, diuretics can lead to dehydration, which, can lead to discomfort, confusion, damage to major organs and even death. When an individual is not acutely aware of the fine changes in his body, they may not recognize the early symptoms and be at higher risk for heat related hazards.  

Persons with developmental disabilities must be closely monitored especially in hot weather, when the symptoms may be easily confused with mental status.  Behavioral changes, confusion, a fever during hot weather, could be the early signs of heat stroke or dehydration. Red skin with no sweating, rapid pulse, headache and nausea may be other signs of heat stroke. If these symptoms are observed in persons living without air conditioning or riding in a hot vehicle, for instance, immediate care should be sought at an emergency room.  

Whatever the humidity, if it is 85 degrees outside, temperatures inside a car can climb to 105 degrees in as little as ten minutes and 120 degrees in half an hour even with the windows cracked. Persons taking high risk medication or has other risk factors are very vulnerable to heat related illness under these circumstances.  

It is extremely important that staff or persons in close contact with individuals who may not communicate clearly, to be very aware of providing eight glasses of water a day, avoiding caffeine drinks, and providing a well-ventilated environment.

Health care providers must inform care- givers of basic hot weather precautions including the following:

  • Offer water frequently
  • Provide hats and sunscreen
  • Know the symptoms of heat stroke
  • Run the air conditioning while assisting persons to be seated in a motor vehicle
  • At the first sign of overheating move to the shade and bathe the person in cool water

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