heat stroke

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat-related illness. It is a severe injury from high body temperatures that causes damage to many organs, particularly the central nervous system, which include the brain and spinal cord. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and immediate medical attention is necessary. Without proper care, heat stroke victims will most likely die.

If you suspect someone has heat stroke, call 911 immediately. While waiting for emergency personnel to arrive:

  • Move the person into shade or indoors (if it is cooler indoors)
  • Remove excess clothing
  • Cool the person with whatever means available
    • Cool tub of water or a cool shower
    • spray with a garden hose
    • sponge bath with cool water
    • fan while misting with cool water
    • place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the person’s head, neck, armpits and groin

Types of Heat Strokes

There are two main types of heat stroke: external and classic.

  • Exertional heat stroke
    • People who have exertional heat stroke are usually people who are exercising in excessively warm conditions. Their bodies cannot manage the stress of the physical activity and the hot environment together.
  • Classic heat stroke
    • People with classic heat stroke are usually elderly, very young (infants and toddlers) or debilitated people who are in warm environments for too long. The elderly are especially vulnerable to the heat. Elderly people are more vulnerable to the heat because as the body ages, it is is less able to handle heat and cool itself off.

Signs in kids and adults

Some of the most common signs in both children and adults are: red, flushed skin, fever (body temperature of 106-degrees or higher), seizures, headache, rapid pulse, fatigue, heat cramps, and unconsciousness.

What does a heat stroke feel like?

A person with experiencing overheating will likely have a throbbing headache, high fever, and be dehydrated.


Some of the most common causes of heat stroke are: high temperatures, lack of body fluids and overexposure to the elements. Heat stroke does not have to be caused by exercise or exertion.

Symptoms of dehydration and heat cramps include dizziness, fatigue, faintness, headaches, muscle cramps and increased thirst.

What happens during a Heat Stroke?

During a heat stroke, your body is unable to properly cool itself. When it is unable to cool itself, the core body temperature rises rapidly.When the core temperature rises, the brain begins to fail. (The brain can only function in a very narrow temperature range). As the brain overheats, the individual will become disoriented, combative, argumentative and may hallucinate.

Treatment options

The main focus of treatment is to lower the body temperature. Different techniques can be used.

How to prevent it

Heat stroke, like all heat-related illnesses, is preventable. Some of the ways to prevent heat stroke is stay well hydrated, wear cool clothes, and keep cool.

Tips to stay cool:

  • Avoid the sun from 10a.m. to 3 p.m. when the burning rays are strongest.
  • Reduce physical activity.
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat and light colored lightweight, loose fitting clothes when you are outdoors
  • Avoid hot, heavy meals that include proteins.
  • Set your air conditioner between 75° to 80°.
    • If you don’t have air conditioning take a cool shower twice a day and visit a public air conditioned facility
  • Check on elderly neighbors and family and friends who do not have air conditioning.
  • Drink plenty of fluids even if you are not thirsty.
    • Avoid alcohol.
  • Use sun screen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 if you need to be in the sun.
  • Don’t forget about your pets they need plenty of water and shade.
  • Insulate your home by installing weather stripping around your doors and window sills to keep the cool air inside

Cool shelters

During extremely hot days in summer months, many cities will open a cool center. Cool center are indoor drop-in sites for anyone in need of temporary relief from the heat.