‘Listen to your body’: London Health Sciences Centre urges awareness on heat-related illnesses

According to the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), heat-related illnesses are the result of excessive heat that increases the body’s core temperatures. Getty Images

The London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is bringing awareness to the dangers of severe heat-related illnesses as Londoners continue to battle the unpredictable summer heat.

These illnesses are the result of excessive heat that increases the body’s core temperatures. According to the LHSC, heat-related illnesses typically occur during days of humidity greater than 60 per cent.

Read more: Half a million Toronto residents sweltering in apartments with no A/C in summer heat

“Heat-related illnesses really reflect a spectrum of symptoms and a spectrum of symptom severity,” said Justin Yan, an emergency physician at LHSC.

According to Yan, mild symptoms include lightheadedness, dizziness, headaches and cramping. He said heat stroke and heat exhaustion are on the “extreme end” of the spectrum for heat-related illnesses that can cause life-threatening conditions with internal temperatures exceeding 40 C.

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“That term (heat stroke) is kind of tossed around a little bit carelessly sometimes,” Yan said. “People with true heatstroke can have really, really high body temperatures and their bodies are no longer able to cool themselves off through natural mechanisms like sweating or moving to a cooler location or rehydrating oneself with water or other fluids.”

In serious situations where heat stroke occurs, Yan said “people will come to the emergency room with what we would call end organ dysfunction, which can include confusion or a coma, liver, kidney dysfunction, or cardiac and respiratory symptoms.”

He added that heat-related illnesses can sometimes be difficult to diagnose.

“Our hospital, certainly more commonly on hot days, we’re seeing these nonspecific symptoms — headaches, nausea, dizziness and feeling weak and tired and such,” Yan said. “We might sometimes assume or be suspicious that it’s heat causing their symptoms, but we don’t know for sure just because there can be a whole lot of other reasons why somebody might feel weak or dizzy or faint.

“A lot of the time, though, we don’t always know that it’s the heat that’s causing people these symptoms.”

Although he could not provide specific LHSC figures, Yan referenced “multiple studies” currently being conducted across the globe as cases of suspected heat-related illnesses have reportedly increased over the last 20 years.

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“While I’m not a meteorologist or a climatologist, I think in the upcoming years for sure, we’re going to be seeing more and more of this,” he said. “Our emergency department visits are increasing overall. I don’t think that’s going to be any different for heat-related illnesses, particularly because of what we’re seeing with heat warnings across our country, and particularly in southwestern Ontario.”

Read more: Heat warnings issued in southern Ontario for 4th straight day

Large parts of Ontario, including some northern regions, have been sweltering under multiple heat warnings issued this summer.

Leading into the Civic Holiday long weekend, with warmer temperatures on the horizon, Yan encourages everyone to “listen to their bodies.”

“If someone’s feeling concerning symptoms, move to a cooler environment, stay hydrated and replace electrolytes. If things aren’t resolved after moving and rehydrating, certainly come and seek medical attention,” he said.

“With the emergency departments in the shape that they’re in, (I think) a lot of people are resisting coming to the emergency,” Yan added. “But we’re working as hard as we can to see and assess patients as quickly as we can in providing necessary treatment.”

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