Heat strokes and heat-related illnesses: The dangers of summertime fun

June 8, 2018 / By Karla VonEschen, MS, CPC, CPMA

Ah, summer!  I live in Minnesota and have waited through an extended winter for the day when I could bring out my shorts and flip-flops. When we think of summer, we often think about spending long periods of time outside doing activities such as sports, gardening or going to the beach. However, with the warmer temperatures comes the risk of over exertion, heat-related illnesses, heat strokes and in some cases heat related deaths. As a coder, this is a good time to brush up on illnesses related to extreme heat. 

According the CDC, an average of 650 people die each year of heat-related illnesses. Here are some other facts you may not be aware of:

  • Children under 4 years old, adults age 65 and older, individuals who are overweight, and those with conditions such as diabetes or heart disease are most at risk.
  • Alcohol or certain medications can impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature or inhibit perspiration.
  • Most heat-related illnesses or deaths occur between May and September, with the highest numbers reported in the month of July.
  • Heat-related deaths are most common among the male population and least common among women.

Patients may present to the physician’s office or the ER with signs and symptoms after a day of fun in the sun that ultimately point to a heat-related illness. Let’s examine some of the diagnosis codes related to heat illnesses or heat stroke, which are found in Chapter 19: Injury, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes in ICD-10-CM:

Signs and symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and headache are definitely indicators of a heat-related illness, but could be part of a different diagnosis all together. This is why it is important for physicians to document with signs and symptoms in the Chief Complaint and specifically state the heat related illness in the Assessment.

So, while you’re outside this summer remember to drink plenty of water, get some shade, take it easy and most of all, enjoy!

Karla Voneschen is a coding analyst at 3M Health Information Systems.