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Heatstroke vs Heat exhaustion

The summer months typically mean higher temperatures and a chance for us to get outside and even hit the beach depending on where we live. These temperatures can vary with east coast cities seeing high temperatures in the 80’s while places like southern California and Arizona can see temperatures higher than even 120 degrees. Warmer weather is great for outdoor activities and exercise, but this Health Journal is a reminder that the heat can also be dangerous. Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are the two main heat related illnesses we see and for those who work outdoors or are exposed to the heat for extended periods of time, you can be at risk. Although they sound similar, we’re going to discuss down below how heatstroke and heat exhaustion are different, what the symptoms are and what to do when suffering from these conditions.


This is a condition essentially caused by the overheating of the body, which is usually a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. Heatstroke is considered the more serious of the injuries compared to heat exhaustion and can occur if your body temperature rises to 1040 F or higher and as noted above, is most commonly seen in the summer months.

It’s important to remember that heatstroke requires emergency treatment. If left untreated, heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys, muscles and the damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing the risk of serious complications or death.


  • High body temperature: A core body temperature of 1030 F or higher, obtained from rectal thermometer, is the main sign of heat stroke.
  • Altered mental state or behavior: Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
  • Alteration in sweating: If heatstroke is brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, during heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin nay feel dry or slightly moist.
  • Flushed skin: As your body temperature increases, your skin may turn red as a consequence.
  • Rapid breathing: During heatstroke, your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
  • Heart rate: Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
  • Headache: The effects of the heat may cause your head to throb.

What to do:

If you or anyone you know is suffering heatstroke, here are the recommended steps to take immediately after signs become apparent.

  • Call 911 right away since heatstroke is considered a medical emergency
  • Move the person to a cooler location. (Indoors, shade, etc.)
  • Help lower the person’s body temperature with cool towels or a cool bath.
  • Do NOT give the person anything to drink

Heat exhaustion:

This is a condition where symptoms may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, as a result of the body overheating. It’s one of the three heat-related syndromes with heat cramps being the mildest, followed by heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

The causes of heat exhaustion are similar to what we discussed above with high temperatures, high humidity and strenuous physical activity being the main causes. Heat exhaustion on its own is not considered as dangerous as heatstroke, but it can lead to it and more complications.


  • Cool, moist skin with goosebumps when in the heat
  • Heavy sweating
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache

What to do:

If you or anyone you know is suffering from heat exhaustion, here are the recommended steps to take immediately after signs become apparent.

  • Move to a cool place
  • Loosen your clothes
  • Put cool, wet towels on your body or take a cool bath
  • Sip water

Get medical attention right away if:

  • You are throwing up
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • Your symptoms last longer than an hour



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