Recognizing the crucial signs of heat stroke and knowing how to tackle them

When the hot weather rolls around and news reporters start gushing about the latest heatwave, many of us spend too much time in the sun. But, when you don’t exercise caution, you may find you’re getting too much of a good thing. As an insidious condition that creeps up when temperatures rise, heat stroke can become a vicious killer.

Ideally, you’ll use your common sense and avoid heat stroke altogether. Doing so isn’t hard. By staying in the shade during peak heat times, wearing sunscreen, and hydrating yourself, you can keep it at bay. However, as we all know, the worst can happen even with the best of intentions.

As an extra layer of protection this summer, now’s the time for you to learn about the signs of heat stroke. And, for added value, you’re about to gain an insight into how to tackle it.

Heatstroke: a brief guide

Also known as heat exhaustion, heat stroke develops when the hypothalamus (the area of your brain that regulates temperature) struggles to do its job. It happens because you’re exposing your body to extremes of heat without helping it along. For example, when you spend a day soaking the sun’s rays and drinking very little, you’re not giving your body the substance it needs to make thermoregulation easier.

Preventing heat stroke is simple. All you need to do is:

  • Consume lots of cool drinks and avoid alcohol
  • Steer away from the sun between 11am and 4pm
  • Wear loose clothing
  • Avoid excessive exercise in the heat

Unfortunately, knowing what prevents heat exhaustion isn’t helpful when it sets in. Understanding the symptoms, however, is a step in the right direction.

Help, I think I’m suffering from heat stroke

Is your head pounding? Do you feel dizzy? Is your pulse racing? While all of these symptoms and signs apply to other conditions, if you’re experiencing them after a day of acting as a sun worshipper, they could be signs of heat exhaustion.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • If you’re observing someone else, they may act confused
  • Nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting
  • Sweating, plus pale and clammy skin
  • Breathing faster than usual
  • A temperature that reaches beyond 38 degrees
  • Excessive thirst

Many of the above signs and symptoms indicate that your body is low on its fluid reserves. Becoming fluid depleted can soon have the same effect as losing a lot of blood. In short, your heart will struggle to serve your body’s tissues using what you have, leading to physical responses that are similar to massive blood loss.

Treating heat exhaustion and contacting 911

Treating heat exhaustion means replacing fluids with drinks, raising the person’s legs to encourage better blood flow, and moving them to a cool place. The chances are that they’re low on essential electrolytes, which means sports drinks can prove useful.

But, if they don’t show signs of improvement within 30 minutes, you need to act fast. A continued poor state or deterioration are reasons to call 911. You should also do so if their temperature rises above 40 degrees, they’re drowsy, unconscious, or having a seizure.

Although it’s rare that heat stroke reaches such extremes, it’s more likely to do so in vulnerable medical groups. Such groups include the elderly, very young, pregnant women, and those who are immunocompromised. By acting fast and knowing when to call for help, you could save a life this summer.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.