Heat Stroke: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of This Deadly Summer Threat

Can't stand the heat? Many of us are sweating it out these days! Time to make sure you're not overdoing it in the scorching summer sun: Important facts about heat stroke.

Hot enough for you?

Certainly folks all over the Metro are sweating it out and trying to keep cool any way possible. But, that doesn’t stop some people determined to get their running or biking workout done, even in the extreme heat. The scary part is that heat stroke isn’t easy to recognize and can be life threatening. At the Urgency Room in Woodbury I’ve seen many patients who don’t even know they’re suffering from heat stroke.

During heat stroke, the body’s core temperature rises, much like it does during a fever. The body normally generates heat and is able to dissipate the heat through the skin or the evaporation of sweat. But, a victim of heat stroke isn’t able to dissipate the heat from their body causing their temperature to rise to 106 F or higher. 

Those most susceptible to heat stroke are:

  • Infants
  • Elderly, especially those taking medications that can make them vulnerable to dehydration and heat stroke.
  • Athletes
  • People who work outside in extreme heat.

Symptoms of heat stroke can vary from person to person. But, the most common signs are:

  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • No sweating… hot red or flushed dry skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Confusion, strange behavior
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizure and/or coma

If you suspect heat stroke, first seek medical attention. Then, there are several things you can do right away to bring the patient’s core body temperature down. First, get the person into an air conditioned space or at least in shade. If you can, cool the patient in a cold shower or tub of cool water.

Otherwise, remove clothing and wet the person’s body with a sponge or even a garden hose. Then fan the patient’s wet skin. If you have access to ice packs, apply them to the patient’s armpits, groin, neck and back. All of these areas are filled with blood vessels close to the skin and cooling these spots can help reduce body temperature.

Ultimately, your best defense against heat exhaustion is to stay cool, in an air conditioned environment. But, if you need to go outdoors here are few tips:

  • Wear light-weight and light-colored clothing.
  • Use sunscreen and wear a hat to keep the sun off your face.
  • Drink fluids, at least eight glasses per day. You can even try electrolyte-rich sports drinks, to replenish liquids lost sweating. The general recommendation is to drink 24 ounces of fluid two hours before exercise, and consider adding another 8 ounces of water or sports drink right before exercise. While working out you should drink another 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes, even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • Don’t work out in the afternoon when the sun is the hottest and humidity the highest. In fact, postpone exercise during extreme heat. Or, if you must, exercise early in the morning or late at night.


—Dr. Gary Gosewisch is the Emergency Medicine Specialist and CEO of the Urgency Room in Woodbury.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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