Heat stroke

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at March 14, 2016
StartDiseasesHeat stroke

A true medical emergency, heat stroke requires immediate treatment. While heat stroke primarily affects those over the age of 50, it is not impossible for someone younger to suffer from this type of health issue whose complications can affect not only a person’s brain and internal organs but his or her overall quality of life.


Definition & Facts

When the body is exposed to high temperatures for long periods of time, heat stroke is more likely to occur. When combined with dehydration, the chances of heat stroke occurring increase significantly, putting many people in danger.

Medically defined, heat stroke occurs when a person’s core body temperature reaches an excess of 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.56 degree Celsius). Prolonged exposure to this level of heat leaves the body susceptible to health issues such as complications with the central nervous system as well as issues with the brain. For this reason, leaving heat stroke unattended is dangerous and potentially fatal.

Symptoms & Complaints

The most common symptom of heat stroke is a raised body temperate of 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.56 degree Celsius) or higher. Other symptoms do tend to occur, and often include everything from a headache to fainting. Other symptoms and complaints experienced by those suffering from heat stroke include the following:

When it comes to heat stroke, it is typically fainting that is the first and most prominent sign that this is the issue at hand. It’s not a guarantee that fainting will occur, but it is often the most telling sign. Most people suffering from heat stroke are unaware that they suffer from anything other than a little heat and discomfort until this occurs.


The most common cause of heat stroke is exposure to hot weather for long periods of time, such as two or three days without reprieve. Hot environments such as a home without air conditioning or fresh air or even a sauna can cause heat stroke too, especially among certain people. Those who are over 50 and those who suffer from chronic illness are the most likely to suffer from heat stroke, though it can affect almost anyone else given the right circumstances.

Another common cause of heat stroke is dehydration. This most commonly occurs when someone is engaged in outdoor work, sports or other activity and does not drink enough water. Strenuous activity such as working out is another leading cause of heat stroke, and it often happens to those who work out outdoors in hot, humid weather. Heat can be especially dangerous for those who are not used to the hot weather.

Diagnosis & Tests

Doctors are educated to recognize heat stroke almost immediately, but some might still order certain tests to be sure their diagnosis is correct. Lab tests such as blood tests and urine tests as well as muscle function tests can confirm the presence of heat stroke so doctors can adequately handle their patient’s needs as quickly as possible.

A blood test is designed to check sodium levels as well as the level of potassium in the blood. This allows doctors to see if there is any damage to a person’s central nervous system if levels are not on target. Muscle function tests are designed to check for tissue damage that might cause further damage to the body if left untreated. Finally, urine tests are ordered to check the function of the kidneys, which can cause urine to change color if damage occurs.

Treatment & Therapy

Heat stroke treatment and therapy is fairly straightforward. It involves cold water immersion to lower body temperature as quickly as possible. The hotter the body, the more likely it is to cause damage to internal organs that can affect a patient for the rest of his or her life. Some doctors prefer to use a combination of ice packs and cooling blankets to blanket the skin and lower body temperature quickly and effectively while others provide medication.

Evaporation is another common manner of lowering body temperature, and it includes misting cold water onto the skin while blowing warm air onto the skin to create evaporation. Medication is not typically given to lower body temperature, but to minimize the side effects of a person’s body being exposed to so much cold at one time. Medications are given to stop shivering and shaking and make a patient more comfortable.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Doctors recommend that patients wear light clothing that fits loosely and comfortably so that the body does not become overheated as quickly during hot weather. Staying hydrated is the most important rule for preventing dehydration, and preventing sunburn is another great prevention method.

Staying cool and indoors during the hottest parts of the day can decrease the likelihood of heat stroke, and one should never leave anyone in a parked car at any time. Those who are older and those who suffer from health conditions should stay out of the heat during the day, and everyone should read the side effects of any medication they take to ensure it does not come equipped with heat-related side effects.