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What are the signs of heatstroke?

Spending time outdoors on a hot, humid day is not only uncomfortable, it also increases your risk of heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Heatstroke is a condition that occurs when the body struggles to regulate its own temperature.

“Heatstroke can cause serious health complications or even death and should be considered a medical emergency,” said Chad R. Bowser, M.D., a specialist in emergency medicine who sees patients in the Maury Regional Medical Center Emergency Department. “Although heatstroke can occur any time the temperature outside is elevated, the condition is more likely to happen in hot and humid conditions.”

It is vital to know the signs of a heatstroke and seek immediate medical attention for the affected individual.

Heatstroke Symptoms

If you develop one or more of these symptoms, you may be experiencing heatstroke:

  • 104oF fever or higher
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Dry, red skin
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Unconsciousness

Call 911 immediately if you or anyone else experiences these signs and symptoms of heatstroke. While waiting for emergency responders, move the person to a cool place. Remove extra clothing, lie down with legs raised and sip water or a sports drink. Resting in a tub filled with cool (not cold) water or applying cool compresses to the groin, neck and armpits will help lower body temperature.

“Heat exhaustion can progress quickly to heatstroke if the individual does not immediately get out of the heat,” said Dr. Bowser. “Signs of heat exhaustion include headache, dizziness, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, a rapid heartbeat, weakness, nausea and pale skin.”

To help prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke, experts recommend taking the following steps:

  • Monitor the heat index: The heat index takes into account the air temperature and the effects of relative humidity. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends being extremely careful if you’ll be spending time outside when the heat index is 90oF or higher.
  • Make hydration a priority: If you’re outside on a hot day, be sure to drink water at least every 20 minutes to prevent dehydration. If you’re dehydrated, your urine will be dark yellow. You may urinate less than normal and feel dizzy, lightheaded, thirsty or tired.
  • Check on vulnerable people: Young children and older adults are more likely to develop heatstroke. So are people who are overweight, have health conditions such as heart disease, or take medications for poor circulation, depression or insomnia. Check on these people often and urge them to go inside or move to a shady spot if they begin to show signs of heat exhaustion.
  • Don’t think you’re immune: Heatstroke can affect anyone, even people who are physically fit. On hot and humid days, skip your workout or move it inside. Don’t perform strenuous activities and pay attention to signs of heat-related illness.
  • Double-check the backseat: Pediatric vehicular heatstroke has claimed the lives of hundreds of children. If you’re traveling with children, always check your backseat when you arrive at your destination. Don’t leave your child in a hot car while you run errands, even if the windows are open. The interior of the car can become dangerously hot in as little as 10 minutes.

Chad R. Bowser, M.D.

is a board-certified specialist in emergency medicine who sees patients in the Maury Regional Medical Center Emergency Department.







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Date Last Reviewed: June 15, 2021
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