Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

While dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur under any circumstances, these conditions are particularly attention in the brutal heat we have been experiencing in this summer of 2012. The chances of heat related complications are made more significant by humidity levels of 60% or greater, which reduce the body’s ability to cool itself through perspiration.

Before continuing, I must stress that I am not a medical professional, and that my knowledge and experience comes from basic Boy Scout training. I’m simply going to offer a few highlights and urge everyone to get some basic training of their own. Your knowledge could save a playing partner’s health.

Dehydration occurs when the loss of fluid from the body exceeds the amount that is replaced. You can get dehydrated from athletic activity, from illness, or simply from not drinking enough as you go about your regular schedule. I once suffered a severe case of dehydration after skiing.

Loss of fluids and electrolytes can cause the brain to lose contact with the body’s muscles, including the heart. That’s bad enough, but in the heat becomes an even bigger issue as the body loses its ability to properly regulate its temperature.

Heat exhaustion results from dehydration and exposure to high temperatures. Again, high humidity can be complicit in this. Untreated, it can lead to health complications.

Heat stroke, or sunstroke, is a more severe form in which the body’s core temperature rises to more than 105. Untreated, heatstroke can result in damage to the brain and other vital organs, and sometimes death.

Note that the three—dehydration, exhaustion and stroke—do not necessariy come in a steady progression. The worst, heat stroke, can attack suddenly with few prior symptoms. All may be associated with temperature increases.

All of these conditions deserve concern and players should monitor both their own symptoms and those of their partners. Look for:

  • profuse sweating

  • fatigue

  • muscle cramps

  • headaches

  • dizziness

  • confusion

  • hot, dry skin

  • nausea or vomiting

  • dry mouth and swollen tongue

  • sluggishness

  • heart palpatations

  • shallow breathing

  • seizures

  • unconsciousness

    Note that since one of the symptoms is confusion, the prospective victim is probably not the best judge of his own condition.

    The safest approach when symptoms occur is to promptly seek professional medical advice and attention. Only a medical professional can know the severity of the problem. Immediate (first aid) treatments, however, could include:

  • getting the victim out of the heat and taking action to lower body temperature, such as fanning or cool, wet compresses.

  • rehydration with non-alcoholic, non caffeinated beverages

  • rest

    I repeat: seek medical advice.

    The best way to deal with these problems, however, is to avoid them in the first place. That means making sure that you are properly hydrated. The Center For Disease Control and the American Council on Fitness have some hydration guidelines that I think are applicable to golf:

  • Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before playing.

  • Drink 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.

  • Drink 16 – 24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during exercise.

    Avoid fluids with caffeine or alcohol. Beverages with electrolytes, such as Gatorade, are designed to be beneficial in the replacement of fluids.

    Finally, make sure that you are properly dressed for the course. A hat is a necessity, and a broad brimmed hat is best. Loose, light clothing are also on the menu.


  • 1 thought on “Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke”

    1. I wore a black shirt to play one day last summer here in Dallas (temp was somewhere around 105 F). Never again. The increase in the sapping of my energy was noticeable. White shirts from now on!


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