How to Treat Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can quickly become a dangerous health condition, so it is good to be aware of how to treat heat stroke. Of all heat-related emergencies, heat stroke is the most severe. According to the National Institutes of Health, heat cramps are caused by a loss of salt, heat exhaustion is caused by dehydration and if left untreated can lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke can cause shock, brain damage, organ failure and death. This is serious stuff, so make sure you learn to recognize the symptoms and how to treat heat stroke.

1. The causes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that causes of heat stroke can include several different factors. These include:

  • Alcohol
  • Dehydration
  • High heat and humidity
  • Heart disease
  • Medications such as diuretics
  • Excessive exercise
  • Too much clothing

Generally, one single factor will not cause heat stroke, but combinations can. For example, binge drinking can lead to dehydration, which, coupled with heat and high humidity can become a dangerous combination. Excessive exercise and high heat can easily become dangerous. If you are aware of the causes, you can recognize problem situations early and avoid the need to treat heat stroke.

2. The symptoms of heat stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, these are some of the common symptoms of heat stroke. Not all of these symptoms may be present, and they may vary some from person to person, but these are definite signs to be aware of:

  • Body temperature over 103ºF
  • Hot, red and dry skin
  • No longer sweating
  • High pulse
  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

3. How to treat heat stroke. Once you have recognized the symptoms and believe someone is suffering from overheating, it is important to take immediate action to treat heat stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the patient needs to be moved to a shady area, and efforts need to be made to cool their body and re-hydrate them. Cooling the person can take many forms, including:

  • Putting them in a tub of cool water or under a cool shower
  • Spraying them with a garden hose
  • Applying cold compresses to the neck, groin and armpits
  • Use a fan in combination with the methods mentioned above

The NIH reports that the patients should be given a half-cup of Gatorade or cool water to drink every 15 minutes. Medical attention should be sought for the patient and 911 should be called if they:

  • Show signs of shock
  • Have seizures
  • Lose consciousness
  • Show change in alertness or they seem to be getting worse.

4. What not to do. In the event of a heat stroke, there are a few things not to do to treat heat stroke because they may make the situation worse. Heat stroke is a serious situation and should be treated and such and not disregarded or underestimated. The NIH adamantly discourages the following:

  • Giving the patient fever medication like aspirin
  • No salt tablets
  • No drinks with caffeine or alcohol
  • Do not use alcohol rubs

5. Prevention is easier than treatment. Knowing how to avoid heat-related problems in the first place can eliminate the need for you to ever be treated for heat stroke. Many are common sense and are encouraged by the NIH to remain safe and healthy, especially during hot months. If you are going to exercise, avoid the hottest times of the day, wear proper clothing and stay well-hydrated. Rest often and stay in the shade when possible. Try to park your car in the shade, or allow it to cool off some before getting in. Heat stroke is very dangerous, but also easy to avoid. Use your common sense and you should be fine. 


National Institutes of Health

Centers for Disease Control

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