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Leading an active healthy life means taking proper precautions to avoid dangers of summer heat

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

All of that activity contributes to an active and healthy lifestyle. But it’s crucial that those seeking summer fun make safety a top priority – especially when dealing with the dangerous and potentially deadly consequences of heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Dr. Kevin Gebke, a family and sports medicine physician with Indiana University Health, urges people to be aware of the warning signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and the life-threatening condition of heatstroke.

  • Heat cramps: Muscular pains and spasms, often in the legs or abdomen, caused by exposure to high heat and humidity and loss of fluids and electrolytes. Stay hydrated. “It’s important for people to plan ahead,” said Gebke, adding that sports drinks help people replace lost electrolytes.
  • Heat exhaustion: Typically includes loss of fluids through heavy sweating during strenuous exercise or physical labor. Signs can include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, or headache, nausea and dizziness. “If people start to have neurological changes and confusion, that’s really an emergency situation,” Gebke said. People should discontinue activity and seek, or be led to, a cooler environment. They should drink cold water and, if possible, submerge in cold water.
  • Heatstroke: This is a life-threatening condition where the body is unable to cool itself. Signs include hot, red skin, changes in consciousness, vomiting and high body temperature. In this situation, call 911 as soon as possible. Again, discontinue activity and seek a cooler area with cold-water ingestion and immersion while awaiting emergency medical help.

Gebke, who also is chairman of the Indiana University Department of Family Medicine, said those with health conditions should be especially careful in hot conditions. “It’s very important for people who are over age 40 and who may have chronic conditions such as high-blood pressure to make sure their doctor has really checked them out,” Gebke said. “The heat really forces us to exert ourselves more, especially if we’re at risk for having a heart attack.”

Indianapolis-based American College of Sports Medicine provides tips for athletes expecting to train and compete including:

  • Get fit first in a cool environment
  • Opt for the cool part of the day for intense workouts
  • Monitor hydration
  • Reduce intensity/duration of activity and increase frequency of breaks as heat increases
  • Ensure extra salt intake early in heat exposure or if muscle cramping occurs
  • Schedule daily heat exposure for at least 30 minutes for two to three weeks to adapt to the environment

Tips provided by Dr. Kevin Gebke, the American Red Cross and the American College of Sports Medicine.

To interview Dr. Gebke on summer sports safety, please call Daniel Lee at 317.963.0448.


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