Symptoms of a Heat Stroke

Summer is just around the corner and when those summer temperatures start rolling in so does the risk for heat-related illnesses. There are many heat-related illnesses such as dehydration, heat cramps, heat syncope and heat exhaustion, but the most dangerous heat-related illness is a heat stroke. A heat stroke is life-threatening and it develops rapidly. Certain groups of people are more susceptible to a heat stroke than others. The elderly, infants, outdoor workers and those on certain medications are at a higher risk.


A heat stroke occurs when the body’s natural cooling system fails during long exposures to the sun. Normally when the body gets hot it is able to cool itself by sweating and radiating the heat through the skin, but in extreme heat, high humidity or at times of vigorous activity the cooling system slowly stops working. This causes the heat to build up to dangerous levels.

The occurrence of a heat stroke causes many of the organs in the body to suffer tissue damage. Central nervous system changes, such as delirium, coma and seizures are profound in most heat stroke victims. Other damage can occur in the liver, kidney, muscle and heart. The effects of a heat stroke may last as long as a day or two.


The symptoms of a heat stroke include headache, dizziness, disorientation, agitation or confusion, sluggishness or fatigue, seizure, hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty, a high body temperature over 104 degrees F, loss of consciousness, rapid heart beat, rapid, weak pulse, shallow breathing, muscle cramps and hallucinations.


Immediate treatment for heat stroke is a must. Call for an ambulance. Until help arrives get the person indoors and remove all clothing. Lay the person in a cool area with their feet slightly elevated. Apply cool water to the skin and fan the body to stimulate sweating. Apply ice packs to the arm pits and to the groin.


There a many ways to prevent a heat stroke. Try avoiding direct sun exposure as much as possible. If possible avoid strenuous activity in hot or humid weather. Always wear a hat when working in intense sun. Wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing in hot weather is also helpful. Drink extra water when you sweat even if you are not thirsty to prevent dehydration. Air conditioners and fans should be used when available to improve air circulation. If air conditioners and fans are not available windows should be open. Food intake should also be limited to small meals. Alcohol intake and activity should also be limited when it is hot or when you are not use to the climate. The best way to prevent heat stroke is to be aware of how your body reacts to intense sun and high temperatures and plan outdoor events accordingly.

It is important to remember that a heat stroke is a medical emergency and should be taken very seriously. If you suspect that you or someone around you is having a heat stroke get professional help immediately.

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