Expert Voices

What the Heck Is ... Heat Stroke?

running woman
Running at different times of the day would be your independent variable. (Image credit: Dudarev Mikhail | Shutterstock)

Dr. Eric Adkins is the Medical Director of the Emergency Medicine Department at The Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center. He contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening emergency. The elderly, infants, people who work outdoors and those on certain types of medications are most susceptible.

Our bodies produce a tremendous amount of internal heat, and we normally cool ourselves by sweating and radiating heat through the skin. However, in certain circumstances — such as extreme heat, high humidity or vigorous activity in the hot sun — this cooling system may begin to fail, allowing heat to build up to dangerous levels.

Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, a high body temperature, loss of consciousness, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations and other effects. It is important for the person suffering from heat stroke to be treated immediately, as heat stroke can cause permanent damage or death — so be sure to call 911.

While waiting for help to arrive, get the person indoors or out of the sun, remove clothing, and gently apply cool water to the skin (followed by fanning to stimulate sweating). Then, apply ice packs to the groin and armpits and have the person lie down in a cool area with his or her feet slightly elevated.

To prevent heat stroke, drink plenty of fluids like water and sports drinks during outdoor activities. Avoid caffeinated tea, coffee, soda and alcohol, as these can lead to dehydration.

The OSU Wexner Medical Center has developed this website to provide additional information about recognizing and treating heat stroke and dehydration.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.

Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center