AUSTIN (KXAN) – Summertime has unofficially kicked off, and the temperatures in Central Texas are starting to reflect that.

As temperatures rise, naturally, so does the risk of heat-related illnesses. More than 1,300 Americans die every year due to extreme heat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Why is extreme heat dangerous? 

“In Central Texas, the heat loves to get to everybody,” said Ally Furrey, head Athletic Trainer for Ascension Seton, who helps support community organizations by evaluating their athletic training needs.

“We’re looking at heat illness, and we’re looking at heatstroke. And when I talk about those two things, one commonality you will always hear from medical professionals in my field is Rhabdomyolysis,” she continued. 

In Rhabdomyolysis, or Rhabdo, a person becomes so dehydrated that their kidneys begin to break down, Furrey said.

Rhabdo is usually associated with extreme heat and prolonged physical exertion and can lead to the death of muscle. When the tissue starts to die, electrolytes and large proteins are released into the bloodstream and can cause irregular heart rhythms, seizures and kidney damage, according to the CDC. Symptoms of rhabdo include muscle cramps, dark-colored urine and weakness, per the CDC. 

Ally Furrey, head Athletic Trainer for Ascension Seton, who helps support community organizations by evaluating their athletic training needs. (photo courtesy: Ascension Seton)

“It becomes a catastrophic event, where it doesn’t just start with the kidneys, it goes segment by segment – the whole body goes into shock. So that is a life-threatening condition,” Furrey said. 

Rhabdomyolysis is relatively uncommon, affecting around 26,000 people across the country annually, but still, something of which to be wary. Furrey said that some people are predisposed to develop the condition, including those with sickle-cell anemia, she said. 

Other heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion, heat syncope – fainting or dizziness from standing up too fast while dehydrated from the heat – heat cramps, heat rash and heat stroke, per the CDC. 

The CDC reports that heat stroke is the most deadly of the heat-related illnesses. It occurs when the body is no longer able to regulate its temperature. During a heat stroke, body temperature can rise to over 106 degrees in fewer than 15 minutes. This condition can result in permanent damage or death and occurs in about 20 of every 100,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

What can you do? 

Furrey said that understanding planned exertion levels, the weather conditions and the hydration your body needs during exercise is paramount. 

Also, “adequately getting electrolytes, not just water into your body with some type of salt and potassium-based types of foods are great to make sure that you’re staying on the pitch. More importantly, it’s great so we don’t have to stretch out those quad cramps or calf cramps [and] you can [avoid going] down the route of IVs or hospitalization,” she continued.