Heat Stroke – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Evidence Based Article 📄
This article has been based on relevant and up-to-date scientific studies. Our writers are unbiased and objective and present the facts as they are known. Numbers in brackets within the article refer to sources included in the reference list at the end of the article.

Also called as sun stroke, heat stroke is serious condition that can occur if you spend too much time under the sun, whether exercising, working, or spending time on the beach.

If you don’t treat heat stroke on time, it can start ruining internal organs as well as increase the risk factor for skin cancer.

If left untreated, heat stroke might be fatal. If your body temperature increases above 40° C (104 F) and your body is unable to cool itself down, you’re more likely to have heat stroke.

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Read on to find out the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of heat stroke in order to stay safe and sound this summer season.

What are the major causes of heat stroke?

It’s believed that the sun exposure – particularly on hot summer days, between 11 am and 3 pm – is the only cause of heat stroke, but there are some other reasons to know. They are:

  • Keeping your body hydrated is essential no matter the season. But, when it comes to summer, drinking enough water is a top priority. Not only does dehydration cause the body’s temperature spikes, but also reduces your energy levels and prevent the organs from functioning effectively.
  • Crowded conditions. If you’re attending a crowded event like a dance party, concert, or sports event during the hot day, where the space’s temperature stays high because of the presence of lots of people, you have a high risk of heat stroke.
  • Wearing wrong fabric. If you wear the wrong clothes that stop sweat from evaporating and cooling your body down, you can also experience heat stroke.
  • Poor ventilation. In many cases, working in poorly ventilated spaces, hot environments, or confined areas can cause heat stroke.
  • Bush fires. A prolonged exposure to a bush fire can cause dehydration and lead to heat-related health issues.
  • Excess alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine are well-known body dehydrators, which also negatively impact the body’s ability to maintain the healthy body temperature. A slightest exposure to the sun with the high amounts of alcohol or caffeine in the system can cause heat stroke.
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What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

People often confuse heat exhaustion and heat stroke since these two conditions share some similar symptoms.

If you feel incredibly hot and dehydrated and experience muscle cramps, weakness and overall tiredness, it might be heat exhaustion.

However, if the body becomes unable to keep the healthy temperature in the body and it gets dangerously elevated, it may be heat stroke.

Generally, the most common symptoms of heat stroke are:

  • Increased heart rate. Since your body is trying to cool down, your heart is put under a huge strain and therefore its rate starts to increase.
  • Breathing issues. If you have heat stroke, your breathing might become shallower and quicker.
  • Skin color change. As the body becomes hotter, your skin may turn dark red.
  • A terrible headache is one of the symptom of heat stroke.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Sweat changes: When you have heat stroke caused by hot weather, your skin will become extremely hot and dry. The heat stroke treated by physical exertion might leave your skin feeling moist.
  • Mental changes that involve confusion, slurred speech, seizures (especially in young kids), irritability, delirium, and even coma.
  • High body temperatures.

How is heat stroke diagnosed?

Generally, a doctor can diagnose heat stroke from your appearance or a discussion about your symptoms.

Oftentimes, medical tests are required to set the right diagnose or figure out any other potential causes. The most common tests required are:

  • Urine test: It helps to check out your kidney function. If you have dark urine, it may be a sign that you’re experiencing a heat stroke or any other related condition.
  • Blood test: It helps to measure the gas levels and the sodium and potassium levels in the blood in order to find out any potential damage to the central nervous system.
  • X-ray: It helps to find out any possible damage to your internal organs.
  • Muscle test: It helps to check out any damage to the muscle tissue.

How is heat stroke treated?

The major purpose of treating heat stroke is to reduce your body temperature and ward off any further damage. The main heat stroke treatments are:

  • Evaporation cooling: The treatment involves misting cold water onto the skin with the warm air fanning onto the body. The whole process causes evaporation, aiding in cooling the skin.
  • Immersion: This one involves submerging in an ice bath or cold water.
  • Muscle relaxants: Used rarely, muscle relaxants like benzodiazepines are given if the temperature of the body keeps rising. These drugs help to stop the body from shivering due to the cold treatments.
  • Ice packs and cooling blankets: The cooling blanket is wrapped around a person with heat stroke. The ice packs are applied to the areas of the body where the large veins are coming closer to the skin surface, including the armpit, groin, back, and neck. This helps to keep the temperature of the blood at bay.
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Since heat stroke is a dangerously serious condition, don’t try to treat it yourself. The professional medical treatment is required to avoid the consequences.

What are the risk factors of heat stroke?

Anyone can experience heat stroke, however, some people are more prone to it than others. The major risk factors of heat stroke include:

  • Age: The central nervous system is responsible for maintaining and monitoring the healthy internal body temperature. While young children’s central nervous system isn’t properly formed yet, the central nervous system of people older 65 years old slowly worsens. Kids and older people have a higher risk factor of heat stroke.
  • High temperature exertion: People who are involved in intense activities during the hot weather or in the spaces with high temperatures are at risk too. Military personnel, athletes, and people working at factories are more likely to have heat stroke.
  • Medications: Certain medications might trigger heat stroke by limiting the ability of the body to stay hydrated or by interfering with the body’s respond to heat. Medications that narrow blood vessels, diuretics, drugs that prevent adrenaline from regulating blood pressure, antipsychotics, and antidepressants can also cause heat stroke.
  • Sudden heat exposure: Heat stroke can strike when visiting a super hot climate or at the beginning of a strong heat wave in summer.
  • Sleep deprivation: Some studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can trigger heat stroke too.
  • Certain medical conditions: Some health issues like lung and heart diseases, gastroenteritis, and obesity can boost your risk of getting heat stroke. People who live a sedentary lifestyle or have a history of heat stroke are at risk too.
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How to prevent heat stroke

Even though people rarely worry about getting heat stroke, it’s actually considered a life threat, which is why it’s vital to be careful during the hot summer season and prevent any likelihood of developing heat stroke. Here are a few tips to follow in order to prevent heat stroke:

  • Water: Drink a lot of water throughout the day to replace the fluids you lose through sweating during the hot weather.
  • Clothing: Opt for lightweight, loose-fitting pieces of clothing, which let your body breathe and cool properly.
  • Parked cars: Don’t leave anyone, including pets, in a parked car, as this is the most common cause of heat stroke and death in kids and pets. Even if the car’s windows are a bit opened or you park the car in the shade, don’t leave anyone inside it.
  • Sunburns: If you have a sunburned skin, it can negatively affect the way your body cools itself down. Avoid being for too long in the heat, use sunscreen, and wear a wide-brimmed hat and lightweight clothing.
  • Timing: Unless you work outside, try to stay inside your house or office during the hottest times of the day – this is usually between 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Caution: In case you’re at risk of heat stroke, regardless of the reason, you must seek a medical help immediately.

Heat stroke is a highly underestimated health issue, which is absolutely avoidable if you follow the aforementioned recommendations on a hot day.

Summer is one of the favorite seasons of the year known for its beach trips and tons of sun. However, ensure you stay safe while enjoying the outdoor activities. It will help you avoid heat stroke.