How to Treat Heat Stroke

England - London - Three city office workers sunbathe during hot lunchtime
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Heat stroke occurs when heat exhaustion is left untreated and the patient's core body temperature continues to rise. Its onset can be sudden, and heat stroke is a severe emergency that can lead to coma, irreversible brain damage, and death. Learn to recognize heat stroke and treat the patient aggressively to prevent further injury.

First, it's important to take heat stroke seriously. The risk of death is very real in someone who's in this condition. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, hot, flushed, dry skin, deep, rapid breathing and in some cases, seizures.

A rapid heartbeat and a lack of sweating in a hot environment are also possible signs of heat stroke. If a person is incoherent and disoriented as well as having these other symptoms, chances are strong they're already in the midst of heat stroke, and quick action is needed.

And despite the similar-sounding name, heat stroke is not the same as the kind of stroke that affects the brain. A patient of heat stroke has a body temperature that is so high—sometimes as high as 104 degrees—that it becomes a medical emergency. The patient's whole body can be affected.

Who Can Get Heat Stroke

Anyone exposed to high temperatures or whose body temperature reaches a dangerous level can suffer from heat stroke. Some people are more susceptible to heat stroke than others, including those over 65, and very young children. Anyone with a weakened or underdeveloped central nervous system, which is what helps the body regulate changes in temperature, is vulnerable. Those who have difficulty staying hydrated are also more likely to suffer heat stroke.

There are some medications that can affect a person's response to heat and ability to stay hydrated. These include vasoconstrictors (which narrow blood vessels), diuretics (which reduce sodium and water in the body), beta blockers (often found in blood pressure medications) and some antidepressants and antipsychotic medications.


Be careful if you encounter a patient of heat stroke. If the environment is hot enough for the patient to get overheated, then it's hot enough for a rescuer to become overheated as well. Follow universal precautions, which include hand washing and wearing gloves or other personal protective equipment if you have it.

Call 911 immediately. While you're waiting for emergency responders to arrive, make sure that the patient has an airway and is breathing. Follow the ABC's of first aid.

Move the patient to a cooler environment immediately. Shade is better than the sun, air conditioning is better than outside, and so on. If you have a fan, place it close to the patient.

Remove as much of the patient's clothing as possible, and if you have ice, place it strategically on areas where it's most likely to cool the body quickly. These include the armpits, the groin and the back of the neck. You're looking to get the person cooled off as fast as possible.

One thing to be careful of when administering aid to someone suffering from heat stroke: Giving them fluids. A person with heat stroke may not be fully conscious, and you don't want to give them something to drink that may cause them to choke. If they can sip some water, try to encourage it, but don't give them anything hot (obviously), or anything with sugar or caffeine. Water, if the patient can tolerate it, is the best bet.

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Article Sources
  • Simpson, C., & Abelsohn, A. (2012). Heat-induced illness. Canadian Medical Association Journal184(10), 1170-1170. doi:10.1503/cmaj.120492