Death of Michael Mosley: How can extreme heat become deadly?

British television presenter and famous doctor Michael Mosley disappeared last Wednesday while on vacation on the Greek island of Symi.

Four days later, his body was found. The coroner said Dr Mosley most likely died of natural causes. Greek police say they believe the doctor died on Wednesday June 5 around 4 p.m. local time, just a few hours after going for a walk.

The coroner suggested that, given Dr Mosley’s age (67) and the fact that he was walking in the sun in a rocky environment, ” at some point the body would have been exhausted “.

Although a full coroner’s report has not yet been finalized, heat has been implicated as a possible contributing factor in the doctor’s death. Greek police said he died of heat exhaustion after losing consciousness while walking in 40C temperatures.

This tragedy is a timely reminder of the dangers of extreme heat.

When do hot conditions become dangerous?

Physical activity levels and environmental conditions significantly affect our risk of developing heat-related illnesses.

When we engage in physical activity, such as walking, the body creates heat as a byproduct. The more vigorous the activity, the more heat is generated. If this heat is not lost, the body can experience dangerous and potentially fatal increases in core temperature.

The human body has two main ways to lose heat generated by the body or from the environment.

First, the body attempts to lose heat to the environment by pumping warm blood to the surface of the skin. However, when the air temperature is higher than the skin temperature (around 35°C), this method becomes ineffective. Instead, the body begins to gain heat from its surroundings.

Second, the body can produce sweat, which has a cooling effect when it evaporates. However, in humid conditions, the sweat on our skin evaporates less easily, because the air already contains a lot of moisture.

Hot temperatures, sun exposure, humidity and physical activity can all present challenges to the human body. When these factors combine, it can lead to disaster.

How is heat exhaustion different from heat stroke?

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are part of the heat-related illness continuum. When heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can progress to heat stroke.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include weakness, headache and nausea.

The most serious progression to heat stroke involves reaching an internal body temperature above 40°C and dysfunction of the central nervous system. This dysfunction may manifest as confusion or disorientation and lead to loss of consciousness.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency in which central nervous system dysfunction and organ failure can ultimately lead to death. In one study, 58% of people who developed heatstroke died within one month.

Who is most vulnerable?

People may be more vulnerable to heat due to physiological or behavioral factors. A combination of the two can increase the risk.

Physiological vulnerability to heat can be complex. A person may have a reduced ability to respond to heat stress, such as a reduced ability to sweat, which is often seen in older adults. A person may also be more vulnerable because heat worsens their underlying health conditions, such as heart disease.

People who are unable to respond to heat are also at greater risk. Regulating activity (such as stopping exercise), changing environment (such as moving to shade), and adopting cooling strategies (such as cooling the skin with a damp cloth) all offer protection.

A person may not be able to respond appropriately if they do not feel the need to act or are unable to regulate their activity and environment. For example, individuals may be limited in their ability to regulate risk if they perform paid manual labor, participate in sporting events, or lack access to shelter or cooling resources.

Underestimating the risks of extreme heat

When heat symptoms are not treated promptly, a dangerous cascade of events can occur, potentially leading to death.

Early action is particularly important given that heatstroke symptoms involve confusion and disorientation, which can impair decision-making. A person affected by heatstroke may not be well placed to adapt their behavior, for example by seeking shade.

Be careful when planning to go out in hot weather. This means not underestimating environmental conditions, but also not overestimating your ability to manage them.

It is important to note that the air temperature shown in weather forecasts is measured in the shade and does not reflect the additional power of the sun.

5 ways to protect yourself

-Plan ahead – avoid activity during the hottest part of the day

-If you are hot, get away from the heat and find a cooler place.

-Stay hydrated and limit alcohol.

-Remove or loosen your clothes if you feel hot.

-Try to calm down in every possible way.

This article was written by researchers Lily Hospers and Jem Cheng and published on The Conversation website.

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