6 Things You Need to Know About Exertional Heat Stroke



You’re a per­son who likes par­tic­i­pat­ing in stren­u­ous phys­i­cal activ­i­ty out­doors? Then lis­ten up. Know­ing that you’re at risk for exer­tion­al heat stroke—and being able to iden­ti­fy and treat the symptoms—could save your life.

You’ve prob­a­bly heard of heat stroke before. It’s one of the most severe forms of hyper­ther­mia. Advanced heat stroke can affect your vital func­tions and can even result in death.

We often hear about cas­es of non-exer­tion­al heat stroke, like the elder­ly get­ting ill dur­ing a heat wave. Exer­tion­al heat stroke, on the oth­er hand, can occur in active peo­ple who are oth­er­wise total­ly healthy.

What It Is
Heat stroke occurs when you lose more flu­ids than you’re tak­ing in. Some­times, this can hap­pen over the course of a few hours, like on a rig­or­ous hike on a swel­ter­ing sum­mer day that has you sweat­ing buck­ets. It can also hap­pen slow­ly, over the course of a few days or even weeks.

What It Looks Like
Symp­toms of heat stroke are seri­ous. Some­one with heat stroke might have hot, red, dry skin (from dilat­ed skin ves­sels) and can reg­is­ter a core tem­per­a­ture up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

Vitals are affect­ed: the pulse is quick­ened and breaths are rapid and shal­low. The per­son might com­plain of a headache or demon­strate signs of con­fu­sion. They might also be act­ing weird­ly and could be expe­ri­enc­ing hallucinations.

Final­ly, at the point of heat stroke, their body will have stopped sweating.

What’s Hap­pen­ing
When a per­son is exhibit­ing the symp­toms of heat stroke, it means that their inter­nal tem­per­a­ture con­trol sys­tem has stopped work­ing. Two main things are hap­pen­ing that are harm­ing the body.

The first is the high fever, which can dam­age the brain and oth­er inter­nal organs. If a per­son has a tem­per­a­ture above 105 degrees Fahren­heit for over an hour, they’re at risk for per­ma­nent brain dam­age. If the vic­tim is behav­ing strange­ly or hal­lu­ci­nat­ing, this is a sign that their brain is being affected.

The sec­ond great risk is the loss of flu­id with­in the body, which caus­es blood pres­sure to plum­met. When your heart isn’t pump­ing blood effec­tive­ly, your body is in trou­ble. Most peo­ple who die of heat stroke die because of cir­cu­la­to­ry failure.

What To Do
The obvi­ous first step is to get help. Make no mis­take about it: heat stroke is a med­ical emer­gency. Time is of the essence: get the vic­tim in front of med­ical aid as soon as possible.water

If you’re with some­one suf­fer­ing from heat stroke, do every­thing that you can to help low­er the body tem­per­a­ture. Get them out of the sun and, if the per­son is con­scious, encour­age them to drink fluids—sports drinks are best, but water works too. Cool their body down with cold water. If there is a stream near­by, try to get them into the water. Oth­er­wise, pat them down with extra water you have.

Use extra t‑shirts, maps, or any­thing you can find to fan the vic­tim. If you have any­thing frozen, like an ice pack, tuck it under­neath their armpits, under their neck, or along their groin.

Be Care­ful
It’s a fine bal­ance: you want to get their tem­per­a­ture down, but not below 100 degrees Fahren­heit, or else the per­son becomes at risk for hypother­mia. Check their tem­per­a­ture fre­quent­ly (hint: when you’re done read­ing this, go toss a ther­mome­ter into your first aid kit) and be ready to per­form CPR, if needed.

How to Pre­vent Heat Stroke
Drink up! When the tem­per­a­ture ris­es, make sure that you’re con­sum­ing enough flu­id to replace any that you’re los­ing. Drink lots of flu­ids before you hit the trails. Bring plen­ty of water with you while hik­ing or doing out­door activ­i­ties, and drink at least every hour.

Keep clothes loose fit­ting, stick to the shade in the hottest hours of the day, and steer clear of caf­feine and booze when you’re plan­ning on get­ting active in the sun.

Final­ly, watch out for very hot days, and for high humid­i­ty. Humid­i­ty can keep sweat from evap­o­rat­ing. If the weath­er looks too extreme, don’t be afraid to resched­ule your activ­i­ty for a milder day.