Summer Sizzle

For someone with a spinal-cord injury, becoming too hot is potentially dangerous

When Texas resident David Fowler sustained complete C4–5 quadriplegia in 1984, he heard warnings about how people with SCI have body-temperature regulation issues. But he didn’t experience a heat problem (hyperthermia) until much later, when he developed it while sitting in a car 15 minutes too long in the hot sun. This episode caused him to be heat sensitive ever since. Because of SCI, his body no longer gets the message when the brain’s thermostat, the hypothalamus, warns it to raise or lower his core temperature.

Sharp Rehabilitation Services ( offers these tips for preventing overheating when you have quadriplegia:

Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise regime.
Avoid exercising in extreme heat or humidity.
Avoid sitting in the sun for prolonged periods of time.
Drink the appropriate amount of water as directed by your physician.
Take plenty of breaks.
Use fans or a misting spray bottle to keep cool.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (, people with a chronic medical condition are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Also, they may be taking medications that can worsen the impact of extreme heat. People in this category need the following information:

Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
Check on a friend or neighbor, and have someone do the same for you.
Regularly check the local news for health and safety updates.
Don’t use the stove or oven to cook — it will make you and your house hotter.
Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
Take cool showers or baths to cool down.

Seek medical care immediately if you or someone you know experiences symptoms of heat-related illness.

Muscle cramping might be the first sign of heat-related illness and may lead to heat exhaustion or stroke. Here’s how to recognize heat exhaustion and heat stroke and what to do:

Heat Exhaustion

Heavy sweating
Cold, pale, and clammy skin
Fast, weak pulse
Nausea or vomiting

What You Should Do:

Move to a cooler location.
Lie down and loosen your clothing.
Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible.
Sip water

Heat Stroke

High body temperature (above 103°F)
Hot, red, dry or moist skin
Rapid and strong pulse
Possible unconsciousness

What You Should Do:

Call 911 immediately — this is a medical emergency.
Move to a cooler environment.
Reduce the body temperature with cool cloths or even a bath.
Do NOT take fluids

Additional advice about staying safe in extreme heat is at

For more information about thermoregulation after SCI, see the feature article “Temperature Gauge” (PN, February 2013


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