Heat Stroke

What is Heat Stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. Without blood and the oxygen it carries, part of the brain starts to die. The part of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain can’t work properly.

Brain damage can begin within minutes, so it is important to know the symptoms of stroke and act fast. Quick treatment can help limit damage to the brain and increase the chance of a full recovery.
The human body usually can regulate its temperature. When the body gets too hot, it uses several strategies to cool down, including sweating. But if a person spends too much time in the heat without taking in enough fluids, the body’s cooling processes can’t work properly. When the body becomes dehydrated, it can no longer cool itself by sweating. When this happens, body temperature can rise high enough to make the person sick.

The first symptoms of heat illness occur as the body temperature climbs above normal, and can include headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and fatigue. These early symptoms sometimes are called heat exhaustion. If steps are not taken to reduce body temperature, heat exhaustion can worsen and become heat stroke.

Heat stroke is a serious, potentially life-threatening form of heat illness. The body temperature rises to 105° Fahrenheit or higher and you develop neurological changes, such as mental confusion or unconsciousness. At these high temperatures, body proteins and the membranes around the cells in the body, especially in the brain, begin to be destroyed or malfunction. The extreme heat can affect internal organs, causing breakdown of the heart muscle cells and blood vessels, damage to internal organs, and death. There are two main causes of heat stroke:

Exertional heat stroke occurs when someone is vigorously active in a hot environment, such as playing sports on a hot summer day or participating in military training activities. It typically strikes young, otherwise healthy people, those least likely to be concerned about the effects of heat on their health. Because of the lack of concern, early symptoms may be dismissed or ignored.

Nonexertional heat stroke tends to occur in people who have a diminished ability to regulate body temperature, such as older people, very young children or people with chronic illnesses. High heat in the surrounding environment, without vigorous activity, can be enough to cause heat stroke in these people.

Factors that can contribute to heat stroke include:

Dehydration from not drinking enough water

Wearing bulky or heavy clothing, such as firefighting gear, in the heat

Being overweight, which causes the body to generate more heat and reduces the body’s ability to cool down

Sleep deprivation, which can decrease the rate of sweating

Being unaccustomed to the heat, such as moving from a cooler climate to a warmer climate

Some medications, most commonly antihistamines (taken for allergies), diuretics (taken for high blood pressure or leg swelling), laxatives (taken to relieve constipation), calcium channel blockers (one type of blood pressure or heart medicine), medicines for Parkinson’s disease, some diarrhea treatments and tricyclic antidepressants

Being confined to a poorly ventilated or non-air-conditioned living space

Having had heat stroke in the past

Use of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and ecstasy (MDMA)


Symptoms of a stroke happen quickly. A stroke may cause sudden:

Numbness, weakness, or paralysis of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
Trouble seeing in one or both eyes. You may have double vision, or things may look dim or blurry. Confusion, and trouble speaking or understanding.
Trouble walking. You may feel unsteady, dizzy, or clumsy.
Severe headache.
Heat stroke can come on suddenly, but warning symptoms often appear first. They include:
Abdominal cramps,Muscle cramps,Nausea, Vomiting,Headache,Dizziness , Weakness and
Heavy sweat or a lack of sweat.

When heat stroke starts, neurological symptoms can include:
Odd or bizarre behavior,Irritability, Delusions, Hallucinations ,Seizures and Coma


There are two types of stroke:
An ischemic stroke develops when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. The clot may form in the blood vessel or travel from somewhere else in the blood system. About 8 out of 10 strokes are ischemic (say “is-KEE-mik”) strokes. They are the most common type of stroke in older adults.
A hemorrhagic stroke develops when an artery in the brain leaks or bursts. This causes bleeding inside the brain or near the surface of the brain. Hemorrhagic (say “heh-muh-RA-jik”) strokes are less common but more deadly than ischemic strokes

A doctor will examine the person and do tests to check for other possible causes of the high temperature. Tests may include a computed tomography (CT) scan of the head, blood tests and a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).

The doctor also will do urine and blood tests to monitor how well the kidneys are functioning. Dehydration and heat stroke can be a major stress for the kidneys.

Expected Duration:

It is standard for a person with heat stroke to stay in the hospital for one or more days so that any complications can be identified quickly. Complete recovery from heat stroke and its affects on body organs may take two months to a year.

Most cases of heat stroke can be prevented. When the temperature outside is especially high:
Drink lots of water throughout the day.
Stay indoors in an air-conditioned area whenever you feel too warm.

Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing, preferably with a loose-weave material that lets air get to your skin.

Avoid strenuous activity in the hottest part of the day (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). If you must participate, take frequent breaks, limit the time that you wear a helmet by taking it off between activities, and avoid wearing heavy uniforms or equipment.

Drink less caffeine and alcohol, which can contribute to dehydration.

If you begin to feel tired, dizzy or nauseated, or if you develop a headache, get out of the heat immediately. Seek out an air-conditioned building. Drink water. If possible, take a cool shower or bath or use a hose to soak yourself.

Once you have had a stroke, you are at risk for having another one. You can make some important lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of stroke and improve your overall health.

Don’t smoke. Smoking can more than double your risk of stroke.2 Avoid secondhand smoke too.
Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber grains and breads, and olive oil.
Get regular exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week. Your doctor can suggest a safe level of exercise for you.
Control your cholesterol and blood pressure. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in your target range.
Limit alcohol. Having more than 2 drinks a day increases the risk of stroke.
Take a daily aspirin if your doctor advises it.
Avoid getting sick from the flu. Get a flu shot every year.
Work closely with your doctor. Go to all your appointments, and take your medicines just the way your doctor says to.

The first step in treating heat stroke is to reduce body temperature by cooling the body from the outside. This can be done by removing tight or unnecessary clothing, spraying the person with water, blowing cool air on the person, or wrapping the person loosely in wet sheets. Alternatively, ice packs can be placed at the neck, groin and armpits to accelerate cooling.

If these methods do not lower body temperature enough, a doctor may try to lower temperature from the inside by flushing the stomach or rectum with cold water. Severe cases may require cardiopulmonary bypass, in which the person’s blood is diverted from the heart and lungs into a collection machine, cooled, and then returned to the body.

In some cases, anti-seizure or muscle-relaxing medications may be given to control convulsions and shivering. Aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol) do not help lower body temperature a person has heat stroke, and these medications should be avoided if heat stroke is suspected.

Click for First Aid For Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Click to learn about alternative (herbal) treatment for heat stroke

Click to learn the Tips for Beating the Heat

People with heat stroke generally need to be hospitalized so they can be tested for complications that may appear after the first day. One common complication is muscle breakdown caused by the heat. In this condition, called rhabdomyolysis, byproducts of the muscle breakdown appear in the bloodstream and can damage the kidneys.

Seek emergency help if you or someone else has been in the heat and experiences confusion, faintness, staggering, hallucinations (visions that are not real), unusual agitation or coma. Begin cooling the person immediately.

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.




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