Anyone can develop heatstroke, but several factors place you at increased risk:

  • Young or old age. Your ability to cope with extreme heat depends of the strength of your central nervous system. In the very young, the central nervous system is not fully developed and in adults over 65, the central nervous system begins to deteriorate, which makes your body less able to cope with changes in body temperature. Both age groups usually have difficulty remaining hydrated, which also increases risk.
  • Genetic response to heat stress. The way your body responds to heat is partly determined by inherited traits. Your genes may play a vital role in determining how your body will respond in extremely hot conditions.
  • Situations that require exertion in hot weather. Common examples of situations that can lead to heatstroke include military training in hot weather and participation in school sports such as football.
  • Sudden exposure to hot weather. If you're not used to high temperatures or high humidity, you may be more susceptible to heat-related illness if you're exposed to a sudden increase in temperature, as might happen with a heat wave that occurs during late spring. Limit your physical activity for at least several days until you've gotten used to the higher temperatures and humidity. However, you may still have an increased risk of heatstroke until you've experienced several weeks of higher temperatures.
  • A lack of air conditioning. Fans may make you feel better, but in sustained hot weather, air conditioning is the most effective way to cool down and lower humidity.
  • Certain medications. Some medications place you at a greater risk of heatstroke and other heat-related conditions because they affect your body's ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat. Be especially careful in hot weather if you take medications that narrow your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulate your blood pressure by blocking adrenaline (beta blockers), rid your body of sodium and water (diuretics), or reduce psychiatric symptoms (antidepressants or antipsychotics). Stimulants for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and illegal stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine also make you more vulnerable to heatstroke.
  • Certain health conditions. You may be at increased risk of heatstroke if you have certain chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung disease. People who are very overweight, have difficulty moving or lack physical fitness also are at higher risk of heat-related problems.
Sep. 02, 2011