Heat Stroke: The Facts We Need to Know

There’s nothing quite like stepping outside and feeling the bright, hot sun on your face. In a recent survey, 25% of respondents reported that summer is their favorite season - and for good reason! The kids are on summer break, flowers are blooming everywhere, and puffy coats and snow boots are out of sight (and out of mind). With hotter temperatures, though, comes a higher risk for heat stroke. Let’s discuss the facts: what causes heat stroke, who’s most at-risk, how to identify heat stroke, what to do if someone shows signs of it, and what you can do to prevent it.


What is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke (a form of hyperthermia) is the most severe type of heat injury. It’s a life-threatening condition that alters blood distribution throughout the body, threatening the brain and other organs.

What Causes Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke happens when the body overheats, and its thermoregulation system (the biological thermometer the body is equipped with) can’t react efficiently enough to manage the excessive heat. It’s usually a result of spending too much time in the sun (or heat) or engaging in activities that require too much physical effort. It can be caused by:

  • Neglecting to stay hydrated
  • Working (or working out) too hard in the heat
  • Being in a hot, closed car for too long
  • Ignoring signs of heat exhaustion, which is a less severe type of heat injury that presents before heat stroke

Who is Most At-Risk?

Anyone can fall victim to heat stroke. But some populations are at a higher risk:

  • People who work outside
  • Athletes
  • People who are carrying extra weight
  • Infants and young children
  • Elderly people
  • People who struggle with a chronic illness

How to Identify Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can have a range of symptoms. Sometimes, the symptoms mimic a heart attack. If you believe you (or someone else) may have heat stroke, seek medical help. It’s a time-sensitive condition, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Look out for the following signs and symptoms of heat stroke:

  • Abnormally high body temperature
  • Red, flushed skin
  • An absence of sweating
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Strange behavior, including agitation and confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Fainting
  • Seizures

First Aid

Start first aid immediately if you believe someone may have heat stroke.

  • Move the ill person to a shaded area, and remove any extra layers of clothing. Spritz or pat their face with cold water. If you have access to ice, place ice on their clothing, or near their body. Never place ice directly on the skin or in the mouth.
  • Once the person is in a cooler place, call 911.
  • If the person is conscious, encourage them to drink cold, non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic liquids. Water is best.
  • Don’t let the person return to the excessively hot environment just because they feel fine. Insist they wait for a medical assessment.

How to Prevent Heat Stroke

One fortunate fact about heat stroke is that it's preventable, and the conditions that lead to it are never a mystery - heat stroke is always a result of being overheated and dehydrated. Prevent heat stroke by:

  • Staying inside, if you can, on exceptionally hot days.
  • Taking frequent breaks if you’re outside.
  • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine and drinking plenty of water. The CDC recommends a cup every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Wearing a hat and light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Leaving the car running and air conditioning flowing if you (or someone else) is sitting in a parked car.

A Few Last Words …

Don’t stop living just because it’s the sunny season. Sun and fresh air are therapeutic in moderation. Studies show that sun exposure can elevate a person’s mood, elevate the immune system, improve sleep, and lower blood pressure. Take the proper precautions to ensure you can continue to live your best life and enjoy those long, sunny days in good health.