As the Valley’s temperatures rise, East Valley hospitals are seeing more patients with heat-related illnesses.
Typically, summers bring three times as many patients to the emergency room than other times of the year for heat-related illnesses, said Ashley Bergeron, a registered nurse and clinical manger at Mesa Banner Baywood Medical Center’s emergency department.
Last week, staff saw four patients in the emergency department. This week — with the Valley under an excessive heat warning — they already have seen three.
Those numbers could rise to six to 10 a day as the temperatures trek upward, said Dr. Larry Spratling, chief medical officer at Banner Baywood Medical Center.
“Everyone seems to underestimate the effects of the heat and still expose themselves to the situation where they’re not prepared with enough fluid. You can rapidly become dehydrated when it’s above 110 and the humidity is so low,” Spratling said.
The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning on Wednesday, in place until Friday night. High temperatures could range from 108 to 113, with little relief at night. Low temperatures could be 85 to 90 degrees.
At Gilbert Hospital, patients are coming in for treatment of heat cramps or heat exhaustion, said Dr. Kim Hoang, chief of emergency medicine.
Heat-related cramps are the mildest form of heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion is more severe. Heat stroke is most severe, Hoang said.
Many times, adults end up in the ER because they’re doing yard work or other activities outside in the high temperatures. Children come in because they are overactive while outside, Hoang said.
“Heat cramps are when people work outside for a while. They’re dehydrated, sweat a lot, lose electrolytes — the salt in the blood. They will feel tired, weakness and muscle cramps,” he said. “A liter or two of IV fluid and they can go home.”
“Heat exhaustion is not just dehydration, but the temperature in the body can go up from 100 to 104,” Hoang said. “People feel sicker. Sometimes they’re nauseous, vomiting and sometimes there’s mild confusion.”
Patients may be treated by IV or if they’re more ill, they may be admitted.
Heat stroke symptoms include mental confusion, coma or seizures. The internal body temperature has risen up to 105. Hoang said he has not seen any heat stroke patients so far this summer.
Hydration is a key factor to fighting off heat-related illnesses, health officials said. The standard recommendation of eight glasses of water a day doesn’t cut it, Spratling said.
“We need more here in Arizona. Around the country, the humidity averages 50 to 70 percent. In Arizona it can be 10 percent or less and you need more water than that. Ten to 12 glasses of water or similar fluid are really what we need,” he said.
Residents also need to be aware of how they feel — even if they are trying to stay hydrated, Hoang said.
“They have to really listen to their body. They have to be prepared. Drink a lot of fluid and try not to stay in the heat too long. Get in the shade. Listen to the body and get inside if they feel any sign of lightheadedness, tiredness or cramps,” he said. “They have to be proactive and get ahead of the game. … Even if you hydrate your body, the temperature alone can cause the heat exhaustion. It causes harm to the body.”
Once a person’s body temperature begins to rise, that’s when internal organs may be damaged, Banner’s Bergeron said. Changes to neurological numbers, unbalanced blood labs or high core body temperature may lead the hospital to admit someone.
“We worry about kidney failure, liver failure, bowels that don’t work,” she said. “Mainly we’re making sure you don’t go into septic shock. That’s what’s going to shut your body down.”