The London Health Sciences Center (LHSC) is drawing attention to the dangers of serious heat-related illnesses as Londoners continue to battle the unpredictable summer heat.
These diseases are the result of excessive heat raising the core temperature of the body. According to the LHSC, heat-related illnesses typically occur on days when humidity is more than 60 percent.
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“Heat-related illnesses really reflect a spectrum of symptoms and a spectrum of symptom severity,” said Justin Yan, an emergency room physician at LHSC.
Mild symptoms include lightheadedness, dizziness, headaches and convulsions, according to Yan. He said heat stroke and heat exhaustion are at the “extreme end” of the spectrum for heat-related illnesses, which can cause life-threatening conditions with internal temperatures exceeding 40C.
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“This term (heat stroke) is sometimes thrown around a little carelessly,” Yan said. “People with true heat exhaustion can have very, very high body temperatures and their bodies are no longer able to cool down through natural mechanisms such as sweating or moving to a cooler location or rehydrating with water or other fluids.”
In severe situations where heat stroke occurs, people come to the emergency room with a condition called end-organ dysfunction, which can include confusion or coma, liver or kidney dysfunction, or heart and respiratory problems, Yan said.
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He added that heat-related illnesses are sometimes difficult to diagnose.
“In our hospital, we certainly see these non-specific symptoms more frequently on hot days — headache, nausea, dizziness, feelings of weakness and fatigue, and so on,” Yan said. “Sometimes we suspect or suspect that the heat is causing their symptoms, but we don’t know for sure just because there can be a whole range of other reasons why someone may feel faint, dizzy or pass out.
“But often we don’t always know that it’s the heat that’s causing these symptoms.”
While he couldn’t provide specific LHSC numbers, Yan pointed to “several studies” currently being conducted around the world as cases of suspected heat-related illnesses have reportedly increased over the past 20 years.
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“Although I’m not a meteorologist or a climatologist, I think we’re definitely going to see more and more of this in the years to come,” he said. “Our visits to the emergency room are increasing overall. I don’t think it will be any different for heat-related illnesses, especially given what we’re seeing with heat warnings across our country and particularly in southwestern Ontario.”
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As the long Civic Holidays weekend begins, with warmer temperatures on the horizon, Yan encourages everyone to “listen to your body.”
“If someone feels they have symptoms, move to a cooler area, stay hydrated, and replace electrolytes. If things aren’t resolved after moving and rehydrating, by all means see a doctor,” he said.
“With emergency rooms as they are, many people (I think) are reluctant to come to emergencies,” Yan added. “But we are working as hard as we can to see and assess patients as quickly as possible to provide the necessary treatment.”
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