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Understanding Heat Strokes and How to Prevent Them with Chinese Medicine

Summer-heat disease arises seasonally in the summer. It has a sudden onset with typical summer-heat syndromes caused by Yang pathogenic factor called summer-heat. It is comprised of both heat and damp characteristics, including upward direction and dispersion. The invasion often manifests with symptoms of fever, profuse sweating, excessive thirst, heavy sensation in the limbs, poor appetite, chest congestion, and surging pulse. The disease progression is fast, and it may form multiple pathological manifestations. In extreme cases the most serious syndromes include body fluid and Qi collapse, inner blocking, impaired awareness, convulsions, bleeding, and loss of consciousness.

In modern medicine, this disease is often seen as heat stroke or acute infectious diseases such as B encephalitis.

Heat stroke may be life-threatening if the core body temperature exceeds 40°C(104°F) since body fails to regulate its temperature and hypovolemia sets in. The longer the hyperthermia lasts, the higher the risk of death. Under severe heat stress conditions too much sodium and bodily fluids are lost and electrolyte imbalance results. Meteorological threshold for sunstroke is a daily average temperature greater than 30°C (86°F). If it is coupled with high humidity, sunstroke occurrence increases significantly. When the daily temperatures are equal to or exceed 37°C(98.6°F), sunstroke is extremely likely. At first hyperthermia will cause cellular and organ dysfunction that without therapeutic interventions will result in multiple organ failure and death.

Strenuous exercise, prolonged exposure to direct sunlight and individual factors such as fever, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, sleep deficit, obesity and hypokalemia are all risk factors for sunstroke.

How to treat sunstroke

Reducing core body temperature rapidly is the primary and the most effective treatment. If you are outdoors, try to find shade and replenish fluids and electrolytes. If you are indoors, in addition to replenishing body fluids, turn on the fan and take a cool shower if possible. In severe cases of heat exhaustion, you will need to seek out medical help immediately and get intravenous infusion in case of severe reduction in blood volume and electrolytes.

From the perspective of Chinese medicine, an herbal formula and/or acupuncture are used based on the pattern differentiation according to symptoms, and tongue and pulse manifestations. There are about 11 pattern types associated with summer heat. For example, in case of body fluid and Qi exhaustion pattern, characterized with pale tongue, scattered and large pulse, and symptoms of fever abating, persistent sweating, wheezing asthma, modified Sheng Mai San (Pulse-reinforcing decoction) would be used.

How to prevent sunstroke and keep your core body temperature in check

The best way to prevent sunstroke according to Chinese medicine is to use dietary and herbal therapy. There is a specific „clear summer-heat“ herb category in Chinese Herbal Materia Medica that includes the following, many of which are foods:

  • Watermelon fruit (Xi Gua) – relieves thirst, promotes urination

  • Watermelon peel (Xi Gua Pi; the white inner layer) – relieves thirst, promotes urination; topically treats mouth ulcerations

  • Mung beans (Lu Dou) – relieves thirst, alleviates restlessness, and lowers body temperature

  • Lotus leaf (He Ye) – clears dampness; reduces irritability, fever and sweating

  • Artemisia/Wormwood (Qing Hao) – promotes urination, reduces fever, and alleviates feeling of heavy limbs and stiffling sensation in the chest

  • Talc (Hua Shi) – alleviates vomiting, dysuria and diarrhea due to heatstroke, reduces irritability, thirst and decreases fever, heavy sensation in limbs and body, poor appetite and listlessness

  • Momordica fruit (Luo Han Guo) – generates body fluids, relieves thirst and cools the body

  • Catechu (Er Cha) – generates fluids, relieves thirst and treats diarrhea and dysentery due to summer-heat

You may also want to incorporate the following foods into your diet on hot days:

  • Aloe vera juice

  • Bamboo shoots

  • Bananas

  • Tofu

  • Bitter gourd

  • Burdock root

  • Clams

  • Crab

  • Eggplant

  • Figs

  • Peppermint

  • Star fruit

  • Strawberries

Since understanding your body constitution determines appropriate dietary and herbal medicine advice, for the best results you should consult Chinese medicine herbalist or acupuncturist. Some of the above mentioned herbs and foods may be too cooling for certain individuals that may result in undesirable complications. Keep in mind that balance is the key to positive therapeutic outcomes.

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