June 25, 2008

Heatstroke in Chinese and English

I was sitting on a public bench, almost asleep, when a young man came and sat next to me. He asked me if I had suffered from heatstroke, which is zhongshu (中暑) in Chinese. This isn't the first time I've been asked this question. Is heat stroke especially common in Taiwan?

There was an article about zhongshu in the Apple Daily yesterday that I happened to see. The article lists some of the symptoms: runny nose, fatigue, dry mouth, poor sleep, and urine turning yellow. (No, really! The article says: "尿液變黃") Compare these symptoms to the English definition of heat stroke:
A severe condition caused by impairment of the body's temperature-regulating abilities, resulting from prolonged exposure to excessive heat and characterized by cessation of sweating, severe headache, high fever, hot dry skin, and in serious cases collapse and coma.
It appears that "heat stroke" is a more severe condition than "zhongshu" necessarily is. Zhongshu may be better translated as "heat fatigue."

Zhongshu has meaning in Chinese medicine, which does not seem to fully coincide with the meaning according to Western medicine. According to Chinese medicine, there are two types of heat affliction, the yin and the yang. The yang (half of the word sun) variety of heat stroke (陽暑), is the kind of problem caused by overexposure to heat and the sun. The symptoms are dizziness, fatigue, hotness, thirstiness, and yellow urine. The yin variety (陰暑), is the problem caused when the body is overheated but the surroundings are cool. The symptoms are those already mentioned, (i.e. runny nose, fatigue, dry mouth, poor sleep, and yellow urine.) According to the article, a cool environment is harmful to a warm body because the skin's pores contract, which hurts their ability to dissipate heat, so the heat travels inward. I do not know how much truth there is in this, but there is no doubt that Chinese commonly believe that quickly changing between hot and cold environments is harmful to one's health. This belief does not seem to be as common among Westerners. (It is ironic that Taiwanese stores are more likely to be cold on a hot summer's day, when compared to Western stores.)

The article states that 80% of zhongshu cases are the yin, or "cool" type. It can be brought about by eating or drinking cold foods and drinks, and exposure to air conditioning for long periods, conditions which are also said to cause colds. Articles in the Chinese newspaper like this that explain health phenomena in terms of Chinese medicine are presented as fact. I think most of it is probably true, but it would be nice if they offered the opinion of a doctor of Western medicine.