- Heat stroke means that you have a core body temperature above 104°F.
- Signs of heat stroke can include mental confusion, flushed skin, and rapid breathing.
- To prevent heat stroke, drink lots of water and avoid exercise in the hottest parts of the day.
Heat stroke can occur when your core body temperature reaches 104°F or higher, and your body is unable to cool itself down.
"This is one of those rare, true athletic emergencies," says Joshua Scott, MD, primary care sports medicine physician at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute. "Heat stroke is like a heart attack. You have to treat it immediately."
Before someone experiences heat stroke, they will feel symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as heavy sweating and a rapid pulse. This often occurs when you're outside during hot and humid temperatures, and especially if you're working or exercising at that time.
If heat exhaustion escalates to heat stroke, here's how you can recognize the symptoms and how to treat them.
Heat stroke symptoms: 4 tell-tale signs
Along with a body temperature above 104°F, the major warning signs of heat stroke include:
- Mental confusion or slurred speech. When body temperature gets above 104°F, proteins in the brain can start to break down, which can trigger changes in mental status. "They will be very confused and not be able to carry on a normal conversation with you," Scott says.
- Unconsciousness. Fainting can be a sign of heat exhaustion, but you should be able to wake someone with heat exhaustion fairly easily, Scott says. That isn't the case with heatstroke. "If they're passed out and not able to be awoken if they're hot and their core temperature is elevated, then you should strongly consider heatstroke," he says.
- Rapid heart rate and trouble breathing. High heat puts stress on all of your bodily functions, and as a result, you may experience a racing heart rate along with shortness of breath, shallow breathing, or hyperventilating.
- Flushed skin. Your skin might appear red as your body heats up.
Heat stroke treatment
While heat exhaustion can be treated at home by cooling yourself down, heat stroke always requires immediate medical treatment because it can cause brain damage, organ failure, and even death if not promptly treated.
If you are with someone who you think may be experiencing heat stroke, you should try to cool them down before they get to the hospital to slow down the potential destruction of organs, Scott says. Here's how:
- Submerge them in cool water, such as in a bathtub.
- Spray the person with water and then place them in front of a fan.
- Place cool cloths or ice packs on the neck, armpits, and groin.
How to prevent heat stroke
To prevent heat-related illnesses, it's always best to refrain from extended physical activity during the hottest parts of the day, between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
If you have to be outside in hot and humid conditions, it's vital to stay hydrated and take frequent resting breaks.
- Moving to a shaded area or going indoors
- Removing unnecessary or tight clothing
- Taking a cool bath or shower
- Drinking fluids
- Placing cold, wet cloths on your head, neck, and armpits
The most at-risk populations for heat stroke include children under four years of age and older people over 65. A child's body can heat up three to five times faster than an adult's, so it's especially important to watch for signs of heat exhaustion in children.
In the summer, the inside of a car can heat up by 20°F in just 10 minutes, and cracking a window is not a sufficient method of cooling, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A child should never be left in a hot car for any period of time.
Heat stroke risk factors
Heat stroke can happen to anyone, but there are a few risk factors that make it more likely. These include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Low physical fitness level
- Some medications like blood pressure medicine and diuretics
- Overuse of alcohol
- Use of illicit drugs like opioids, methamphetamines, and cocaine
Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency that should be treated immediately. If you see the signs and symptoms, like flushed skin, trouble breathing, rapid heart rate, or mental confusion, you should call 911 or go to the hospital.
To prevent heat stroke, avoid exercise or strenuous activity during high heat, drink lots of water, and try to stay in the shade or air conditioning.
What does the beginning of a heat stroke feel like?
The first signs of a heat stroke could be mental confusion, feeling faint, tired, and weak, slurred speech, profuse sweating, and hot, dry skin.
How long does heat stroke last for?
After taking the necessary measures to cool down, a heat stroke could last for up to 30 minutes for some people. In some cases, if a person has not cooled down, a heat stroke could lead to permanent damage or death.
What do you do for heat stroke?
There are many things someone can do. Some options include:
- Finding shade or a space with a cooler temperature
- Removing unnecessary clothing
- Cooling skin with water, damp cloths, or ice packs
- Fanning the skin
- Drinking fluids
What are the symptoms of mild heat stroke?
Mild symptoms may include:
What are the signs of heat stroke in adults?
The signs can include:
- A rapid heart rate
- Heavy sweating
- Feeling weak and faint
- High body temperature
What are the heat stroke symptoms in kids?
Symptoms in children can be slightly different. They may include:
- Cool, clammy skin
- Elevated body temperature
- Increased thirst
- Increased sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting