Understanding Heat-Related Illness -- Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on July 28, 2021

What Are the Treatments for Heat-Related Illness?

Heat crampscan usually be alleviated by escaping the heat: resting; drinking water, clear juice, or a sports beverage; and eating moderately salty foods. Gentle massage or firm pressure applied to cramping muscles may help alleviate spasms. In severe cases, the victim may need intravenous fluids that contain salts. If heat cramps do not go away within the hour, or if you have heart disease or are on a salt-restricted diet, seek medical help.

For Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

First, GET HELP. It is critical that emergency medical assistance be called as soon as possible. Then, if possible, get the victim to drink, but don't force fluids if the person is confused or has passed out. Avoid alcohol or caffeine.

The primary treatment for heat exhaustion is replacement of lost fluids and salt. Victims should be moved to a cool environment, lie flat or with their feet raised slightly above head level, and sip a cool, slightly salty beverage -- such as a sports drink, tomato juice, cool bouillon, or other vegetable or fruit juices.

Heat stroke usually develops rapidly and can cause permanent brain damage or death if not treated promptly. Anyone with heat stroke needs emergency medical attention.

  • While help is on the way, move the victim into the shade and wrap them in cool, wet bedding or clothing. Or, remove the victim's clothes and sponge their body with cool water until help arrives.
  • Ice packs can be placed on the groin, neck, or underarms, or the victim can be fanned by hand or with an electric fan or a blow-dryer set on cold (do not use a blow-dryer that blows only hot air).
  • If possible, use a thermometer to monitor the person's temperature and stop cooling treatments if their temperature normalizes.
  • Once at the hospital, a person who has suffered heat stroke will be given intravenous fluids to correct dehydration and replete sodium and potassium. The person also may be given intravenous drugs to control seizures or other complications and will likely be confined to bed rest and monitored for 24 hours to several days.