Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Dennis Lee, MD
* What is heat stroke? * What are heat stroke symptoms? * How do you treat a heat stroke victim? * Related heat stroke articles: Heat stroke - on WebMD
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia (abnormally elevated body temperature) with accompanying physical and neurological symptoms. Unlike heat cramps and heat exhaustion, two less-severe forms of hyperthermia, heat stroke is a true medical emergency that can be fatal if not properly and promptly treated.
The body normally generates heat as a result of metabolism, and the body is usually able to dissipate the heat by either radiation of heat through the skin or by evaporation of sweat. However, in extreme heat, high humidity, or vigorous exertion under the sun, the body may not be able to dissipate the heat and the body temperature rises, sometimes up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Another cause of heat stroke is dehydration. A dehydrated person may not be able to sweat fast enough to dissipate heat, which causes the body temperature to rise.
The population most susceptible to hear strokes are infants, the elderly (often with associated heart diseases, lung diseases, kidney diseases, or on certain medications that make them vulnerable to heat strokes), and athletes, or outdoor workers physically exerting themselves under the sun.
What are heat stroke symptoms?
Symptoms of heat stroke can sometimes mimic those of heart attack or other conditions. Sometimes a person experiences symptoms of heart exhaustion before progressing to heart strokes. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, headache, muscle cramps and aches, and dizziness. However some individuals can develop symptoms of heat stroke suddenly and rapidly without warning.
Different people may have different symptoms and signs of heat stroke. But common symptoms and signs of heart stroke include:
* high body temperature * the absence of sweating, with hot red or flushed dry skin * rapid pulse * difficulty breathing * strange behavior * hallucinations * confusion * agitation * disorientation * seizure * coma
How do you treat a heat stroke victim?
Victims of heat stroke must receive immediate treatment to avoid permanent organ damage. First and foremost, cool the victim. Get the victim to a shady area, remove clothing, apply cool or tepid water to the skin (for example you may spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose), fan the victim to promote sweating and evaporation, place ice packs under armpits and groins. Monitor body temperature with a thermometer and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102 degrees. Always notify emergency services (911) immediately. If their arrival is delayed, they can give you further instructions for treatment of the victim.
The most important measures to prevent heat strokes are to avoid becoming dehydrated, and to avoid vigorous physical activities in hot and humid weather. If you have to perform physical activities in hot weather, drink plenty of fluids (such as water and Gatorade), but avoid alcohol, coffee, and tea which may lead to dehydration. Take frequent breaks to hydrate yourself. Wear hats, and light colored, and light and loose clothes.