What is Heat Stroke?

Dee Saale
Dee Saale

When the body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), a person may be suffering from a serious condition called heat stroke. It usually occurs when a person is forced to spend large amounts of time in a hot environment or when she participates in extreme physical activity in a warm environment. If medical attention is not sought immediately, the organs may fail, the person may suffer brain damage, or the person may die. Most medical personnel consider heat exhaustion or heat cramps to be a precursor to heat stroke. In many cases, it can be prevented by keeping the body cool and well hydrated.

Drinking water can help with heat stroke.
Drinking water can help with heat stroke.

The symptoms of heat stroke include a high body temperature, usually at or above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsuis). If the stroke is the result of high climate temperatures, the skin will usually be dry and hot to the touch. If it is the result of physical exercise, the skin may feel moist, almost clammy. In addition, the person may appear flushed, have rapid breathing, or have an elevated heart rate. Sometimes a person will experience headaches, seizures, hallucinations, or even become comatose.

Fatigue and dizziness are two symptoms of heat stroke.
Fatigue and dizziness are two symptoms of heat stroke.

Before a person reaches the level of heat stroke, she may suffer from heat cramps or heat exhaustion. With heat cramps, she may perspire profusely, have muscle cramps in the abdominal region, arms or legs, and suffer from fatigue. The heat cramps can be treated by drinking plenty of water and drinks with electrolytes and resting in a cool location, such as an air conditioned room. With heat exhaustion, the person may have dizziness, a headache, nausea, clammy skin, and muscle cramps. Again, by drinking cool, electrolyte-packed fluids and resting in a cool place, heat exhaustion can be treated.

Runners can avoid heat stroke by drinking enough water.
Runners can avoid heat stroke by drinking enough water.

If heat stroke is not treated, a person may go into shock. When that happens, the blood does not flow properly. As a result, the blood pressure drops, the nails and lips may turn blue, and the skin becomes clammy. If left untreated, shock may cause organ failure or even death.

There are several ways to treat heat stroke, although, in most cases, a medical doctor should be consulted if the condition is even remotely suspected. One example of treatment includes placing the person in cool water to lower her body temperature. Another cooling technique involves misting cool water over the body and then fanning it off. The evaporation of the water works to cool the person’s body temperature and treat the heat stroke.

Heat stroke can be prevented by following a few easy tips. For example, wear lightweight clothes that fit loosely on the body. Also, take breaks in a cool area, such as an air conditioned room, if exercising in warm temperatures. In addition, if the temperatures become increasingly hot, it is best to avoid extreme physical activity. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids on hot days and while engaging in physical activity in warm weather.

Skin will be dry and hot to touch if heat stroke is caused by high climate temperatures.
Skin will be dry and hot to touch if heat stroke is caused by high climate temperatures.
Dee Saale
Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments

anon958859

Is it true that sunstroke and heatstroke are the same thing?

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