The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke: When to Sweat It and Seek Care

The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke: When to Sweat It and Seek Care

Overheating is common for those who seek more time in the sun. However, heat exhaustion is a serious concern. If left untreated, it could result in a life-threatening situation known as a Heat Stroke. Heat Strokes occur when your body temperature rises to 103 degrees F or higher. The condition is most commonly experienced during the summer months. This is due to humidity and the sun being high when we spend more time outdoors.


Unsure of how to differentiate between heat exhaustion and a heat stroke? Read more to learn about the signs and symptoms of each and how to treat them fast! This action could help save your life or the life of someone you love.



What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke?


Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious conditions. Heat exhaustion begins with general muscle weakness, sudden excessive sweating, nausea and vomiting, and possible fainting. A heat stroke is when your body’s internal temperature reaches over 103 degrees. You begin experiencing a loss or change of consciousness, agitated, unexplained behavior changes, hot, red, and dry skin.  All of these symptoms should be taken seriously. Call your medical professionals immediately upon onset. According to Healthline, If you experience heat exhaustion for an extended period of time, heatstroke may occur. While many experience heat exhaustion symptoms before heat stroke, it’s not always the case.


Signs and Symptoms of Heatstroke:


There are many symptoms of a heat stroke. Be mindful if you or someone you know experiences the following while spending large amounts of time outdoors in the summer:

  • Sudden Severe Headache: It may be a migraine or just “any other headache.”  Be aware of any sudden headache onset, however. If you are spending time in the heat and high humidity, this could be a signal that our body is overheating fast.
  • Unexplained confusion or odd behavior. If someone suddenly shows signs of dizziness, confusion or agitation, loss of consciousness or disorientation, call 911. These are all beginning signs of a heat stroke.
  • Sudden rush of feeling cold and chills while sweating: When your body can’t regulate your temperature, it may send chills down your spine, literally. If you’re hot and sweating yet experiencing chills and a feeling of being cold, seek emergency care and take steps to cool down your body temperature fast.
  • Alteration in sweating. The Mayo Clinic states, “In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in a heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel dry or slightly moist.” Pay attention to your skin and how you feel during strenuous activities while in a warm climate.
  • Racing Heart Rate, Rapid Breathing, Nausea, and vomiting. You could feel your heart rate increase rapidly without doing any strenuous activity and the culprit is a heat stroke. You may begin to feel sick to your stomach or physically vomit. If you experience any of these signs, it’s your body telling you to cool down, stat.


How to Treat Heat Stroke:


If you experience any of the symptoms above and suspect a heat stroke, call 911 and seek help from your local emergency care facility immediately. If you know someone who is experiencing heat exhaustion or who is beginning to show signs of a heat stroke, be sure to take them to a shaded area and apply cool compresses to their head, chest, neck, and/or back. You may also spray them with cool water from a nearby hose or use a sponge to apply cool water directly over their skin. Remove excess clothing.


Be careful not to cool off yourself or others too quickly by offering them ice water to drink.  Santosh Sinha, MD at Dignity Health Medical Group – Bakersfield warns that by digesting ice cold water during a heat stroke will actually “constrict the capillaries, cause stomach cramps, and decrease the absorption rate”. The sudden rush of coldness in your body could cause more damage than good with a state similar to “shock”.


Who is Most At Risk of Heat Stroke?


According to the CDC, the following individuals are most at-risk for a heat stroke:


  • Infants and young children
  • People 65 years of age or older
  • People who are overweight
  • Individuals who overexert during work or exercise
  • People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation
  • People traveling from cooler climates to drastically warmer climates


How to Prevent Heat Stroke:


If you know you will be spending more time outside, be sure to dress in loose clothing made of lighter fabric. Avoid darker colors to prevent heat absorption. Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. If you feel as though heat exhaustion is coming on fast, grab a sports drink with electrolytes to replenish what has been lost through sweat. Drink plenty of water every day and avoid excessive amounts of alcohol especially when you know you will be spending most of your day out in the heat.


If you or someone you know shows signs of extreme heat exhaustion or heat stroke, be sure to call 911 immediately. The Drewry Family Emergency Center at Comanche County Memorial Hospital is ready to help you through any emergency you or a loved one are experiencing.




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