Hyperthermia is an internal body temperature increase above 40.5 degrees C; normally internal body temperature is kept constant through natural homeostatic mechanisms. Heat-related illnesses occur due to exposure to high environmental temperatures in conditions in which an organism is unable to maintain adequate homeostasis. This can happen, for example, when the organism is unable to dissipate heat adequately. Heat dissipation occurs through evaporation, conduction, convection, and radiation. Heat disease exhibits a continuum of signs and symptoms ranging from minor to major clinical pictures. Minor clinical pictures include cramps, syncope, edema, tetany, and exhaustion. Major clinical pictures include heatstroke and life-threatening heat stroke and typically are expressed in the presence of an extremely high body temperature. There are also some categories of people at greater risk of developing these diseases, due to exposure in particular geographic areas (e.g., hot humid environments), to unchangeable predisposing conditions (e.g., advanced age, young age (i.e., children), diabetes, skin disease with reduced sweating), to modifiable risk factors (e.g., alcoholism, excessive exercise, infections), to partially modifiable risk factors (obesity), to certain types of professional activity (e.g., athletes, military personnel, and outdoor laborers) or to the effects of drug treatment (e.g., beta-blockers, anticholinergics, diuretics). Heat-related illness is largely preventable.
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