The Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke

The Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke

If you've ever spent an extended amount of time outdoors in the heat, you may have become overheated. That's not unusual. You may also have wondered if you suffered from heat stroke. If you become overheated and are able to quickly recover on your own, that's not heat stroke. Heat stroke is a potentially deadly medical emergency and is the most dangerous type of heat injury.

The signs and symptoms of heat stroke

Heat stroke occurs when a person's core temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Unless you happen to be carrying a thermometer, you'll have no way of knowing that a person's body temperature is becoming dangerously high. Instead, if you or someone else is outside in the heat, especially if also engaged in rigorous physical activity, any of the following symptoms can indicate heat stroke:

  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed (red) skin
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Confusion, disorientation, staggering, slurred speech, and agitation
  • Lack of perspiration
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • A throbbing headache and dizziness

How to treat heat stroke

Left untreated, heat stroke can be fatal. If you suspect you or someone around you is experiencing heat stroke, follow the below guidelines:

  • Call 911 or head to a hospital (whichever will be fastest)
  • As you await medical care, get the person into air-conditioning or shade and have them lie down
  • Remove excess clothing
  • Cool the person in any way you're able (fan them, spray them with a hose, place them in a tub or shower with cool water, place wet towels or ice packs on their head, neck, groin and armpits)
  • Do not give the person fluids

Heat stroke risk factors

Anyone subjected to extreme temperatures for a prolonged period may suffer heat stroke. The following groups are at increased risk:

  • People above age 60 (especially if they have underlying health problems or are taking certain medications that can cause dehydration)
  • Chronically ill people
  • Infants and children
  • Athletes
  • Outdoor workers
  • Low-income individuals without access to air-conditioning
  • Pets (especially when left in vehicles)

How to avoid and prevent heat stroke

A major cause of heat stroke is dehydration. Whenever you're spending time outside in extreme heat, make sure you have access to plenty of water. Even if you're not thirsty, make sure to drink regularly to replenish fluids lost from sweating. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which exacerbate dehydration. Here are other ways to prevent heat stroke:

  • Limit time spent outside in hot, humid conditions
  • If you can, avoid exercising and working outdoors during the hottest hours (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
  • Carry an umbrella or wear a hat to block the sun on hot days
  • Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing when outdoors in the heat
  • Never leave a child, pet, or immobile person unattended in a hot car
  • Make sure outdoor pets have access to water and shade

If you suspect heat stroke, act quickly, because your actions could save a life.


Mayo Clinic: Heatstroke

CDC: Extreme Heat and Your Health

Healthline: When the Heat Is On: How to Avoid Heat Stroke

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