Doctor Explains How Body Under Heat Stress Shuts Down

Elderly at an Increased Risk of Heat Illness

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. –- It’s the hottest week of the year so far, and with extreme heat comes extreme health risks. A Springfield physician explains what happens when bodies are exposed to too much heat and not enough water.

Dr. Gil Mobley, an emergency trauma physician at Dr. Gil’s Immediate Care, said it usually takes about five  days of above 90-degree temperatures for people to start seeing signs of heat illness.

On Wednesday, Springfield hit day three. Mobley says, by the time people start seeing symptoms of heat exhaustion, it can be a quick 24-hour spiral into hospitalization, or worse. He said being hyper-aware of hyperthermia could be the community’s only hope at holding off heat illness.

"People with hyperthermia, we put them in the ICU,” Mobley said. ‘We do not observe them in the ER. We expect the worse until proven otherwise."

Mobley says that’s because it takes just 24 hours for a dehydrated body’s kidneys to completely fail.

"Those kidneys are getting overloaded with sludge immediately,” he said.

No one is immune to dehydration or heat illness. It can happen to completely strong, healthy people.

"We see the hard-working, large-strapping, muscular guys that are oxen,” Mobley said.

However, there are certain populations more susceptible to heat illness.

"Just by virtue of age alone, older people are compromised,” he said.

Nate Stokes, the owner of Visiting Angels Homecare in Springfield, says that’s why companies like his exist , to give in-home care to the elderly.

“Because they have mobility issues, they're unable to make it into the kitchen to get ice water,” Stokes said about some of the people he assists.

Stokes said his crew is constantly keeping hydration in mind.

"Sometimes the elderly that have dementia or Alzheimer’s simply don't know how to communicate whether they're feeling cold or warm, so we can help by maintaining the thermostat,” he said.

Mobley says home heating and cooling systems aren’t all that different from bodily systems.

"The most sensitive system in the body, to heat, is the electrical system,” Mobley said. “Just as, right here in this clinic, if the temperature were to go to 110 degrees, our computers would go out. The electrical systems, the brain, the heart, are the same way."

Experts stress the importance of checking on older folks who might not have hired in-home care.

KOLR10 also spoke to Mobley about heat stroke, which is different than heat exhaustion, but just as dangerous. Here’s what Mobley said happens to the body during a heat stroke: the body’s cooling system completely shuts down, meaning it doesn’t know to start sweating to cool itself off.

Mobley also said most people run a high-grade fever, coupled with symptoms of a typical stroke. The doctor said once a person has a heat stroke one time, they are much more likely to experience it again.


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