How to Prevent, Detect, and Treat a Heat Stroke

A heat stroke is a grave condition in which the body cannot regulate its temperature and dangerously overheats. This malady comes in two categories. Exertional heat strokes are induced by physical activity, and non-exertional heat strokes are caused solely by the environment. Non-exertional heat strokes typically afflict infants, young children, senior citizens, people who take certain prescription medications, and those dealing with alcoholism, cardiac disease, obesity, and diabetes.


The first way to prevent a heat stroke is to drink plenty of fluids during periods of intense exercise and warm weather. Liquids greatly facilitate sweating, the main way the body cools itself. They also keep the cells healthy and aid the processes necessary for life. Further, stay away from alcohol and coffee on hot days, and wear clothes that are lightweight and light in color. And as common sense dictates, remain in air-conditioned places and avoid unnecessary outdoor work. Finally, never leave a child inside a parked car for any length of time.

In the future, people might be able to stave off heat strokes with pills. In 2012, the medical journal Nature Medicine published a study indicating that the anti-obesity drug aminoimidazole carboxamide riboside (AICAR) has the power to suppress heat strokes.


To determine if someone is suffering from a heat stroke, look for a faster-than-normal pulse, quickened breaths, an elevated temperature, a lack of sweat, and skin that’s dry and red. Confusion, fainting, headaches, seizures, hallucinations, and odd behaviors are all heat stroke symptoms as well.

If you suspect a case of heat stroke, dial 911. After all, a high body temperature can permanently harm the brain and other organs, and it can be fatal. Indeed, in March 2005, Emergency Medicine Journal published a study reporting that more than 75 percent of heat stroke patients experience more than one instance of organ failure.


You should begin to treat a heat stroke victim even before help arrives. Strip the individual to his or her underwear. Pour frigid water on him or her, and place ice packs on the neck and groin and under the arms. If the person is responsive, ask him or her to lie down, and provide a series of cold beverages in quick succession — drinks that are free of alcohol and caffeine. Sports drinks are especially useful as they supply electrolytes, which are substances that heat stroke sufferers must replenish.

At the same time, make sure that the patient isn’t so cold that he or she starts to shiver; shivering warms the body. What’s more, you should continually take the person’s temperature. If it drops below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, cease your cooling efforts as a sudden and drastic plunge in temperature can lead to hypothermia, a condition in which the circulatory, nervous, and respiratory systems often malfunction.

Once a heat stroke patient enters a medical facility, his or her doctor has an array of treatments to choose from, including cold baths, cool mists, intravenous fluids, and drugs such as benzodiazepines that can control shivering.

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