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First Aid for Heat Stroke

Last updated March 5, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Have you ever suffered from exertional heat stroke? This condition is caused by intense activity in the heat and is one of the top three killers of athletes and soldiers in training. Douglas J. Casa explains heat stroke's tremendous effects on the human body and details an action plan in case it ever happens to someone you know.

What is Heat Stroke?

A Heat Stroke is a medical emergency, when the core body temperature is elevated to 104 deg. F or higher, due to excessive, strenuous, physical activity and/or prolonged exposure to hot conditions. It is also known as a Sun Stroke.

What are the Causes of Heat Stroke?

Heat Strokes are caused by:

  • Prolonged exposure to hot conditions
  • Excessive, strenuous physical activity
  • Insufficient and inappropriate fluid intake
  • Excessive intake of alcohol and/or caffeine, prior to physical activity in hot conditions
  • Use of certain medications, like anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, beta-blockers, diuretics, anticonvulsants, and/or stimulants (ADHD)
  • Use of illegal stimulant drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamine

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke?

The signs and symptoms of a Heat Stroke are:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Severe headache
  • High body temperature
  • Absence of sweating
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing
  • Flushed (red), hot and dry skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Confusion, disorientation, and/or agitation
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

How is First Aid administered for Heat Stroke?

While awaiting help from a medical professional, the following First Aid may be administered for a Heat Stroke:

  • Immediately move away from hot conditions, to a shaded area (or a much cooler place)
  • Remove excessive or unnecessary clothing
  • Fan the affected person
  • Immerse individual in cool water, if available; otherwise, spray cool water and start dabbing with cool, wet clothes or icepacks, in the armpits, groin, neck, forehead, and back region
  • If the individual is able to drink/take fluids, then have him/her drink cool water, juice, or any ‘sports drinks’
  • DO NOT give any alcoholic beverages, or drinks containing caffeine
  • Rest
  • Maintain close observation, until medical help arrives

Who should administer First Aid for Heat Stroke?

The individual experiencing Heat Stroke or someone near the affected personcan follow initial First Aid steps, while awaiting help from a qualified medical professional; else call 911, or your local emergency number.

What is the Prognosis of Heat Stroke?

The prognosis is dependent on the timely administration of treatment. Heat Strokes can lead to damage of vital organs and are even fatal, if the condition is not treated immediately and appropriately.

How can Heat Stroke be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to prevent Heat Stroke:

  • Avoid excessive physical activity in hot conditions
  • Be appropriately clothed during sport activities
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine on hot days, prior to any physical activity
  • Replenish body fluids and electrolytes, in a timely manner and adequately
  • Cool the body, after working out in hot weather/conditions

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) and initiate First Aid
  • Move away from hot conditions/locations and cool the affected individual immediately

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Nov. 26, 2013
Last updated: March 5, 2018