How extreme heat impacts the mind and body, according to experts

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) The southwestern United States is preparing for another week of scorching temperatures, with forecasters extending a weekend excessive heat warning for the most populated area of ​​Arizona on Monday and alerting residents of parts of Nevada and New Mexico to stay indoors.

The Phoenix metro area is on tracktie or break a recordset in the summer of 1974 on most consecutive days with the high temperature at or above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius). Low morning temperatures are also tying historic records.

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Along the U.S.-Mexico border, federal officials said extreme temperatures over the weekend contributed to the rescue of 45 people and the deaths of 10 more.

With so many consecutive days of excessive heat, meteorologists, doctors and local health officials across the Southwest are recommending people limit their outdoor exposure and be aware of the warning signs of heat illness.


From heavy sweating and dizziness to muscle spasms and even vomiting, experts say heat exhaustion and heatstroke are likely to become more common. In the coming decades, the United States is expected to experience higher temperatures and more intense heat waves.

Martin Brown and his dog Sammy try to keep calm outside the Circle In The City homeless clinic, Monday, July 10, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Heatstroke is the most serious heat-related illness and occurs when the body loses its ability to sweat.

The skin becomes hot and red, and the pulse quickens when the person’s body temperature rises to 103 F (39 C) or higher. Headaches set in, along with nausea, confusion, and even fainting.

Jon Femling, an emergency medicine physician and scientist at the University of New Mexico, said the body tries to compensate by pumping blood to the skin to cool itself. And the more a person breathes, the more fluids they lose, becoming more and more dehydrated.

Important electrolytes such as sodium and potassium can also be lost in sweating.

So one of the first things that happens is your muscles start to feel tired as your body starts to drift, she said. And then you can start to have organ damage where your kidneys fail, your spleen, your liver. If things get really bad, then you start not perfusing your brain as well.

Experts say it’s important to recognize the signs of heatstroke in others, as people may not realize the danger they’re in due to an altered mental state that can lead to confusion.

In the event of heat stroke, experts suggest calling 911 and trying to lower the person’s body temperature with a cool, damp washcloth or cold bath.

With heat exhaustion, the body can become cold and clammy. Other signs include heavy sweating, nausea, muscle cramps, weakness and dizziness. Experts say the best thing to do is move to a cool place, loosen your clothes, and sip some water.

Elderly people, children and people with health problems can face greater risks when temperatures are high.

During extreme heat events, one of the most common ways people can die is from cardiovascular collapse, experts said, due to the extra energy the heart must expend to help the body compensate for the high temperatures.

In general, health officials say staying indoors, looking for air-conditioned buildings and drinking more water than usual can stave off heat-related illnesses. Caffeine and alcohol are no-nos. Eating smaller meals more often throughout the day can help.


Researchers at Arizona State University are trying to better understand the effects of extreme heat on the body and what makes heat so deadly.

They are using a special thermal dummy called ANDI that is equipped with nearly three dozen different surface areas individually controlled with temperature sensors and human-like pores that produce beads of sweat.

This May 5, 2023 image provided by Arizona State University shows the university’s special thermal dummy in the hot room of the Human Biometeorology Laboratory in Tempe, Arizona (Christopher Goulet/ASU via AP)

A lot of research that my colleagues and I do is really focused on understanding how people respond to higher levels of extreme heat over longer periods of time and then what we can do about it, said Jenni Vanos, an associate professor at ASUs School. of Sustainability.

There are 10 thermal mannequins, mostly used by sportswear companies for testing. The ASU dummy is the first that can be used outdoors thanks to a unique internal cooling channel.

The university has also developed a new hot room, or heat chamber, where researchers can simulate heat exposure scenarios from around the world. Temperatures can reach 140 F (60 C) inside the room, and wind and solar radiation can be controlled for experiments.

Vanos said measuring short-wave and long-wave radiation in the environment can also tell researchers how much a surface or person would heat up in a specific location in a city.

And so under these extreme conditions, what can really be modified or changed within the urban environment is the shade, he said. In a place like Phoenix or any hot and sunny area, shade is a very critical factor in being able to reduce the overall heat load on the human body.


While the air conditioners are on and the fans are blaring, residents across the region anxiously await the start of the monsoon season, hoping it will help keep the heat at bay.

But so far, the summer storms that usually bring cloud cover, lightning and showers to the desert Southwest are absent due to the ongoing El Nio weather pattern, National Weather Service meteorologist Sam Meltzer said.

It looks like things will be abnormally dry over the next couple of months, Meltzer said, noting that the storms that could break the heat depend on wind patterns pulling moist air from the Gulf of California into Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t have thunderstorm activity, Meltzer said. It might just be delayed.

Meltzer worked in Phoenix before moving to Las Vegas last winter. He noted that while temperatures rose last month in the Phoenix area, June remained abnormally cool in southern Nevada.

The official daytime temperature at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas stayed below 100 F (37.8 C) for a record 294 days before temperatures reached 102 F (38.9 C) on June 30 . The previous record of 290 days, from 1964 to 1965, stood for 58 years.

However, it’s not just the air temperature that people need to worry about, Vanos said. Humidity can make it harder for the body to produce sweat to cool itself down.


Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Walter Berry in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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