Beating the heat

Story by Spc. Blanka Stratford
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office

As the sweltering heat of summer rapidly approaches, service members deployed to the Middle East should be aware of an imminent but preventable issue: heat injuries.

"There are three basic categories of heat injuries: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke," said Spc. Michael Levasseur, combat medic for the 118th Medical Battalion, a National Guard unit based out of Bedford, Conn. "Heat cramps are the least severe. They involve the cramping of skeletal muscles due to dehydration or heavy activity without rest, proper nutrition or hydration. This will often be mistaken for a Charlie horse or a regular muscle cramp."

What differentiates heat cramps from muscle cramps is exposure to heat, said Levasseur.

"Heat exhaustion is more severe," he said. "Symptoms include dizziness, extreme sweating, pale skin, fast heart rate and decreased blood pressure. The physiology behind this is that the body is attempting to compensate for the fact that it doesn't have enough fluids circulating by making the heart beat faster."

Levasseur, who works as a paramedic in East Hartford, Conn., said that heat exhaustion is usually caused by prolonged dehydration (over the course of one day) and exposure to extreme heat conditions (temperatures above 90 degrees). When an individual experiences heat exhaustion, he or she should be placed in a cool, shady area to rest, with legs elevated. If conscious, the individual should drink cool water slowly.

"The Army's protocol for hydration is one quart per hour," said Levasseur. "In the desert, we generally try to advocate four to five liters a day."

The third and most dangerous of the heat-related illnesses is heat stroke.

"This condition can be fatal," said Levasseur. "At this state, body begins to lose its ability to regulate its own temperature. The core temperature of the body reaches between 104 and 106 degrees."

According to Levasseur, the symptoms of heat stroke include mental changes, psychotic behavior and confusion, disorientation or coma, throbbing headache, nausea and flushed dry skin. The casualty should be immediately moved to a shaded area and cooled with ice packs, cool water, or whatever is readily available. Treatment is urgent, and prompt transport to medical care is vital to the person's life.

"Heat stroke may lead to permanent brain damage or death," he said. "Once someone reaches this category, he or she will have to undergo extensive treatment, to include long-term hospitalization, CAT scans, and even organ analysis."

To prevent these injuries, Levasseur advises that service members drink enough water to keep their urine at a clear to light yellow color. Concurrently, Soldiers should also remember that there is such a thing as drinking too much water, which will lead to a condition called hyponatremia - an abnormally low concentration of sodium in the blood.

Proper nutrition with a balanced diet and two to four servings of fruits and vegetables is also highly recommended.

"What we've noticed at LSA Anaconda is that Soldiers are not paying attention to their hydration," said Levasseur. "Currently, the temperature's only gone up to the 90s. As far as heat goes, we've still got another 50 degrees that it's going to increase. If this trend of not properly hydrating continues, we're going to have a lot of serious injuries."

Levasseur, who has worked as a combat medic for six years, said that commanders will need to enforce the issue of proper hydration over the next several months.


Beating the Heat Instructions