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Posted: September 4th, 2023

Homeostasis and Its Relationship to Hyperthermia

Case Study: Hyperthermia


Case Presentation

It was July 20 in Houston and the fourth straight day that would have a high temperature above 100°F. Janice was running some errands and decided to stop by her mother’s house. Janice’s mother, Marian, was eighty-four and in pretty good health. She was able to keep up with her housekeeping and still tended a small garden in her backyard. Just that morning, Janice had told her mother not to spend too much time working in the garden today. Janice knew that the heat could be dangerous, especially to the elderly, and her mother’s place didn’t have an air conditioner, but Janice felt that her mother was alert enough to know her own limits.

When Janice reached her mother’s house, she found her mother unconscious on the couch in the living room. All of the windows in the house were closed. Janice immediately tried to rouse her mother and was able to get her to say a few words, but Marian seemed delirious. Janice grabbed the telephone and called for help. The emergency services operator instructed Janice to apply cold wash cloths to her mother’s forehead and face and if possible to position her mother in front of a fan while using a spray bottle to spray tepid water on her skin.

When the paramedics arrived Marian was conscious but confused and feeling nauseous. At the hospital the doctor told Janice just how lucky she was to have visited Marian at that moment. He informed Janice that Marian had suffered heat stroke, a form of hyperthermia and that Janice’s quick action at the house had saved her mother’s life. Marian was making rapid progress to recovery but was being given fluids and electrolytes intravenously and was going to stay in the hospital overnight for observation.

Case Background

Hyperthermia occurs when the body temperature increases without an increase in the set point of the thermoregulatory center in the hypothalamus. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two common forms of hyperthermia. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include thirst, fatigue, profuse sweat, and giddiness or delirium. Individuals with heat exhaustion generally have a normal or only slightly elevated body temperature and the symptoms are the result of the loss of water and electrolytes. Symptoms of heatstroke include a temperature of 104°F, absence of sweating, and loss of consciousness. If untreated, heat exhaustion precedes heatstroke, and heat stroke is often fatal. Treatment for hyperthermia consists of reducing the body temperature to normal. Special attention is placed on reducing the temperature of the brain as tissue damage can result if the body temperature rises above 109°F.

Define homeostasis and describe how it relates to hyperthermia.

Explain why elderly individuals with poor circulation would have a greater risk of suffering heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Explain why spraying water on the skin while sitting in front of a fan would lower body temperature.

When attempting to lower a person’s body temperature in response to hyperthermia one should avoid treatments that induce shivering or vasoconstriction. Why?

1. Homeostasis and Its Relationship to Hyperthermia

Homeostasis is the body’s natural mechanism to maintain internal stability and balance, ensuring that various physiological parameters remain within a narrow range. This equilibrium is crucial for the proper functioning of bodily processes. When it comes to hyperthermia, homeostasis plays a pivotal role in regulating body temperature.

The human body maintains its core temperature around 98.6°F (37°C) through a process known as thermoregulation, primarily controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain. Homeostasis in this context means that the body strives to keep its internal temperature within this optimal range.

Hyperthermia disrupts this delicate balance. It occurs when the body’s temperature rises above the set point of the hypothalamus, often due to external factors like extreme heat or physical exertion. When the body’s cooling mechanisms, such as sweating and dilation of blood vessels, fail to dissipate heat efficiently, hyperthermia ensues.

In essence, hyperthermia is a state where homeostasis is compromised, leading to a dangerous increase in body temperature. This can result in heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heatstroke, which demand immediate intervention to restore homeostasis by lowering body temperature.

2. Increased Risk for Heat-Related Illness in Elderly Individuals with Poor Circulation

Elderly individuals with poor circulation are at a higher risk of experiencing heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heatstroke. There are several reasons for this heightened vulnerability:

Reduced Sensitivity to Temperature: As people age, their ability to sense changes in temperature diminishes. Elderly individuals may not recognize when they are becoming overheated, making them less likely to take preventive measures.

Slower Cooling Mechanisms: Aging often leads to a decrease in the body’s ability to cool itself efficiently. This can result from reduced sweating, which is a primary means of heat dissipation, and a less responsive circulatory system.

Underlying Health Conditions: Many elderly individuals have preexisting health conditions that affect their circulation, such as hypertension or diabetes. These conditions can hinder blood flow to the skin’s surface, impairing the body’s ability to release heat.

Medications: Certain medications commonly prescribed to the elderly, like diuretics or antihypertensives, can further interfere with the body’s cooling mechanisms or disrupt electrolyte balance.

Overall, these factors contribute to an increased risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke in elderly individuals with poor circulation. It underscores the importance of vigilance and proactive measures to prevent hyperthermia in this demographic.

3. Cooling Mechanisms of Spraying Water and Using a Fan

Spraying water on the skin while sitting in front of a fan is an effective method to lower body temperature during hyperthermia. This approach employs the principles of evaporative cooling.

When water is applied to the skin and evaporates, it absorbs heat from the body in the process. This heat absorption cools the skin and, subsequently, the blood flowing close to the skin’s surface. The fan enhances this cooling effect by increasing the rate of evaporation, as moving air promotes the diffusion of water vapor away from the skin.

Essentially, this technique mimics the body’s natural cooling mechanism of sweating. Sweat evaporates from the skin’s surface, dissipating heat and helping to regulate body temperature. By aiding this process, spraying water on the skin in front of a fan accelerates heat loss and helps restore normal body temperature in cases of hyperthermia.

4. Avoiding Shivering and Vasoconstriction in Hyperthermia Treatment

When attempting to lower a person’s body temperature in response to hyperthermia, it’s crucial to avoid treatments that induce shivering or vasoconstriction. Here’s why:

Shivering: Shivering is the body’s involuntary muscle contraction in response to cold temperatures. It generates heat and raises the body’s core temperature. In hyperthermia, the goal is to reduce body temperature, so inducing shivering through exposure to cold can be counterproductive.

Vasoconstriction: Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the skin’s surface. This physiological response occurs in cold conditions to conserve heat. However, in hyperthermia, it’s essential to promote heat dissipation by dilating blood vessels to enhance blood flow to the skin for efficient cooling.

In summary, treatments that trigger shivering or vasoconstriction can exacerbate hyperthermia by increasing the body’s core temperature. To effectively lower body temperature, interventions should focus on methods like evaporative cooling, as discussed earlier, that facilitate heat loss without stimulating counterproductive responses like shivering or vasoconstriction.


Kenney, W. Larry. (2016). Thermoregulation at rest and during exercise in healthy older adults. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 44(1), 24-29.

Bouchama, Abderrezak, & Knochel, James P. (2017). Heat stroke. New England Journal of Medicine, 346(25), 1978-1988.

Armstrong, Lawrence E., & Casa, Douglas J. (2019). Heat-related illnesses in athletes. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 18(4), 153-154.

Taylor, Nigel A. S., & Cotter, James D. (2016). Heat adaptation: Guidelines for the optimisation of human performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 11(1), 1-10.

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