Heat stroke is the most serious manifestation of heat related illness and is the extreme end of the heat related illness spectrum. Heat stroke is a true medical emergency and is imminently life threatening as it represents the complete breakdown of thermoregulatory processes resulting in rapid core body temperature elevation and cell death (Leon, 2015).
Heat stress results in the release of proinflammatory cytokines which act to promote vasodilatation and vascular permeability. These changes initially result in heat dissipation through radiation and of energy from the blood as it enters superficial cutaneous vascular beds where it is evaporatively cooled. If core temperatures continue to rise a systemic inflammatory response develops (Leon, 2015). This process is marked by diffuse vasodilatation resulting in a large relative decrease in effective circulating volume. If core temperatures are sustained at or above 42°C thermoregulatory mechanisms begin to fail, leading to an unchecked accumulation of heat energy and rapid core temperature elevation (Bouchama A, 2002). Beyond 42.5°C, cellular proteins begin to denature. As large numbers of cells die and release their intracellular contents, a massive cytokine surge pushes the vascular system into distributive shock. Surviving cells have massively increased metabolic demands to cope with the ongoing heat stress. This increased metabolic demand coupled with hypoperfusion due to widespread vasodilation results in neuronal cell death and encephalopathy. The eventual clinical manifestation is that of distributive shock, end organ ischemia, hypoxic brain injury, and cardiac collapse resulting in death (Toru Hifumi, 2018). Common risk factors for of heat stroke include:
CLINICAL PRESENTATION & DIAGNOSIS
Heat stroke has been historically classified into two groups according to the presence or absence of exertion Exertional heat stroke develops in healthy individuals, such as athletes, soldiers, or workers engaging in rigorous physical activities in high ambient temperatures. Even with prompt treatment, the mortality rate for exertional heat stroke has been quoted to be between 5-15% (Leon, 2015). Conversely, non-exertional heat stroke develops typically in more elderly individuals with comorbidities including obesity, poor mobility, diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, heart disease, renal disease, and dementia. The mortality rate for non-exertional heat stroke approaches 65% with prompt treatment (Leon, 2015). This discrepancy in mortality rate is due, in part, to the higher burden of co-morbid conditions in the non-exertional heat stroke group. It should be noted that when environmental heat stress is maximal, exertion is not required to generate heat related illness in young healthy individuals (Toru Hifumi, 2018).
To date, no universally accepted definition of heat stroke exists. The most commonly utilized criteria for heat stroke worldwide are the Bouchama criteria. Bouchama defined heat stroke as a core body temperature that rises above 40.5°C, accompanied by hot dry skin and central nervous system abnormalities, such as delirium, convulsions, or coma (Bouchama A, 2002). Bouchama’s definition:
Many subsequent guidelines have included hepatic and renal dysfunction, in addition to coagulopathy as part of their diagnostic criteria. Given that these investigations are not available to a covering sport medicine physician in the field they will not be discussed. It should be noted that several fatal cases have been reported in patients with core body temperatures below 40°C (Jean-Marie Robine, 2008). The presence of altered level of consciousness with a strong clinical suspicion for heat stroke should prompt immediate intervention and cooling.
Immediate cooling is the most important aspect of heat stroke treatment. Evaporative cooling is the modality of choice. Cooling should begin immediately upon recognition of heat stroke while waiting transport to hospital. The patient should be moved to a shaded or air-conditioned area. All clothing and equipment should be removed from the patient’s body. The patient is then copiously sprayed with ice water and large fans or blankets are used to rapidly move air across the patient’s body. Ice packs to the head, neck, axilla, and groin may be used as effective adjuvants to evaporative cooling. The target core temperature while cooling a patient is 38°C to avoid hypothermic overshoot (Platt, 2014).
COOLING METHODS – LITERATURE REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Rapid cooling is the single most important therapeutic objective in heat stroke. Each minute effective cooling is delayed the risk of death and long-term neurologic impairment increases. Several cooling methods are well described in the literature. However, consensus on the best cooling modality remains elusive. This is due largely in part to a lack of quality evidence and significant confounders related to comorbid conditions in non-exertional heat stroke patients. The most accepted and widespread cooling techniques include ice water immersion, evaporative cooling with cold water and fans, ice packing, and body cooling units (Hadad, 2004).
Cases Series on Cooling in Exertional Heat Stroke
|Author/Year||Study Size||Mean age (years)||Cooling Modality||Time to cooling or cooling rate||Outcomes|
|Shibolet 1967||36 soldiers||19||Ice filled rubber bottles||1-3 hr TTC||22% mortality
11% neurologic morbidity
|Beller 1975||41 soldiers||21||Ice water immersion||10 – 60 min TTC||No mortality or morbidity|
|Costrini 1990||252 soldiers||Not reported||Ice water immersion||No reported||No mortality (morbidity not followed)|
|Hadad 2004||52 soldiers||21||Evaporative cooling with ice water + fans||Cooling rate: 0.14±0.11°C/min||No mortality or morbidity|
|Demartini 2015||274 runners||32||Ice water immersion||Cooling rate: 0.22°C||No mortality (morbidity not followed)|
Case Series on Cooling in Non-exertional Heat Stroke
|Ferris 1938||44 patients||61||Ice-water immersion||9–40 min TTC||32% mortality (morbidity not followed)|
|Hart 1982||28 ED patients||71||Ice-water immersion or crushed ice to body||< 30 min TTC||14% mortality; 14%
|Vicario 1986||39 ED patients||63||Wet sheets & fans + ice packs||< 1 hr TTC||Mortality 21% (morbidity not followed)|
|Al-Aska 1987||25 pilgrims||58||Water-soaked fine gauze sheets + fans||40 min TTC||No mortality or morbidity|
|Bouchama 1991||52 pilgrims||59||Body-cooling unit (BCU)||68 min TTC||Mortality 2%; neurological
|Khogali 1981||174 pilgrims||57||BCU||78 min TTC||Mortality 15% (morbidity not followed)|
(Gaudio, 2016). BCU = body cooling unit, ED = Emergency Department, TTC = time to cooling target of 38°C
The heterogeneity of the available evidence makes comparison between study groups difficult given the lack of control with respect to variables such as etiology of heat stroke, comorbidities, and post cooling intensive care. However, a clear trend is visible with respect to increased risk of death and neurologic dysfunction if cooling is delayed or is insufficiently rapid once initiated.
Ice water immersion results in rapid reduction of core temperatures, typically yielding a cooling rate of 0.22-0.25°C / min (Gaudio, 2016). This corresponds to a core temperature drop of 3°C in as little as 10 minutes. While highly effective, this cooling modality is cumbersome, interferes with patient care, lacks widespread availability, and is technically challenging. Moreover, ice water immersion is rarely possible on site while provided medical coverage for an athletic event. As a result, ice water immersion should be reserved for use in hospitals with the necessary equipment and expertise (Platt, 2014).
Evaporative cooling is the modality of choice to initiate for exertional heat stroke patients while on the sidelines awaiting transport to hospital. Evaporative cooling involves extrication of the patient to a cooler environment away from direct sunlight and the removal of all clothing and equipment from the patient’s body. The patient is then copiously sprayed with ice water and large fans or blankets are used to rapidly move air across the patient’s body. This modality employs evaporative, radiative, and convective heat exchange strategies to lower core body temperature. Evaporative cooling is effective, yielding a cooling rate of 0.14±0.11°C/min in a 2004 study of 52 Israeli soldiers afflicted with exertional heat stroke (Gaudio, 2016). This cooling rate corresponds to a core temperature drop of 3°C in as little as 20 minutes when properly utilized. Evaporative cooling is effective, readily available, requires minimal equipment, and is technically simple to perform. Ice packs to the head, neck, axilla, and groin may be used as effective adjuvants to evaporative cooling.
Regardless of cooling strategy, the target core temperature should be 38°C to avoid hypothermic overshoot. Core temperatures should be continuously monitored and maintained between 37-38 °C. Cooling should be restarted if core temperature rises above 39°C (Platt, 2014).
Children are at increased risk for the development of heat related illness, particularly heat stroke as a direct result of their pediatric physiology (Bytomski, 2003).
Dr. Erik Leci and Dr. Graham Briscoe (May 10, 2020 – PR ND)
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