Training Tip: Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke

Training Tip: Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke

Let's keep talking heat with Coach Carola from ZOOMA Run Club!

Last week we spoke about strategies we can use to make running in the heat and humidity safe and more enjoyable. What if we take all of the precautions but suddenly don't feel well on the run?

Recognizing the symptoms and differences between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke is of vital importance to prevent an emergency situation.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body's core temperature gets too high, resulting in heavy sweating, a rapid heart rate, dizziness, and other symptoms.

Heat exhaustion can occur anytime you’re subjected to extreme heat and/or humidity, but the risk of heat exhaustion increases when running in the heat due to the natural increase in core body temperature that occurs when exercising.

One of the primary ways the body cools down is by increasing blood flow to the skin. When you run, your body generates additional heat, and instead of diverting as much as possible to the skin, blood flow is mostly routed to your working muscles, which can cause the body to overheat.

We are also more prone to heat exhaustion while running because of the potential to become dehydrated.

We don't often pack a thermometer in our running belt to know when our temperature is increasing, so here are a few other signs and symptoms of Heat Exhaustion:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breath rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Clammy or damp skin
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst
  • Difficulty coordinating body movements
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Low blood pressure

*NOTE: you don’t need to present with all of the listed symptoms to be suffering from heat exhaustion; each runner may present with heat exhaustion differently. It’s always best to err on the side of caution, immediately stop running, and begin taking steps to lower the body temperature.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY and requires IMMEDIATE emergency medical care.

With heat stroke you will see more cognitive symptoms:

  • confusion
  • delirium
  • difficulty thinking and concentrating
  • agitation
  • memory issues
  • loss of consciousness and even coma

While there is some overlap in the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, with heat stroke there will also be an ABSENCE of sweating.

What to do?

Sometimes despite all of the planning and precautions, the heat still gets to us. If you or one of your running buddies develops heat exhaustion while you are running, the immediate treatment goals are to cool and hydrate.

  • find shade and/or air-conditioning
  • shed extra layers of clothing
  • consider a cool bath (this is first-line treatment for heat stroke)
  • sit and/or lie down and elevate the feet
  • drink fluids (water and/or electrolyte-replacement drinks)
  • If symptoms are more severe (the runner is extremely disoriented, unconscious, seizing, or vomiting uncontrollably), this raises concern for more severe heat illness and emergency medical services should be contacted.

We all want to get out there and do what we love... know the symptoms, take the necessary precautions, and run safe!

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