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Heat Stroke: Symptoms and Treatment

First Aid for Heat Stroke

If you suspect that someone has a heat stroke, immediately call 911 or transport the person to a hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal.

While waiting for the paramedics to arrive, initiate first aid. Move the person to an air-conditioned environment -- or at least a cool, shady area -- and remove any unnecessary clothing.

If possible, take the person's core body temperature and initiate first aid to cool it to 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. (If no thermometers are available, don't hesitate to initiate first aid.)

Try these cooling strategies:

  • Fan air over the patient while wetting his or her skin with water from a sponge or garden hose.
  • Apply ice packs to the patient's armpits, groin, neck, and back. Because these areas are rich with blood vessels close to the skin, cooling them may reduce body temperature.
  • Immerse the patient in a shower or tub of cool water, or an ice bath.

If emergency response is delayed, call the hospital emergency room for additional instructions.

Risk Factors for Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is most likely to affect older people who live in apartments or homes lacking air conditioning or good airflow. Other high-risk groups include people of any age who don't drink enough water, have chronic diseases, or who drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

Heat stroke is strongly related to the heat index, which is a measurement of how hot you feel when the effects of relative humidity and air temperature are combined. A relative humidity of 60% or more hampers sweat evaporation, which hinders your body's ability to cool itself.

The risk of heat-related illness dramatically increases when the heat index climbs to 90 degrees or more. So it's important -- especially during heat waves -- to pay attention to the reported heat index, and also to remember that exposure to full sunshine can increase the reported heat index by 15 degrees.

If you live in an urban area, you may be especially prone to develop heat stroke during a prolonged heat wave, particularly if there are stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. In what is known as the "heat island effect," asphalt and concrete store heat during the day and only gradually release it at night, resulting in higher nighttime temperatures.

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