Baylor College of Medicine

Know the signs: Heat exhaustion can quickly turn to heat stroke

Graciela Gutierrez

713-798-4710

Houston, TX -
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Sweating in the summer sun is one thing, overheating is another. Doctors at Baylor College of Medicine have some tips on how to prevent heat exhaustion from turning into heat stroke or worse.

"Heat exhaustion is characterized by sweating, light headedness, fainting, fast heart beat and a modest elevation of body temperature," said Dr. Jeffrey Steinbauer, professor of family and community medicine at BCM. "Heat stroke is a step beyond heat exhaustion. The body can no longer control sweat and excess heat so the body temperature rises and in extreme cases can damage internal organs."

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Don't ignore symptoms

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Other symptoms of heat exhaustion include weakness, dehydration, problems with coordination, headache and even abdominal cramps, including nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

"Heat exhaustion becomes dangerous when it is ignored," Steinbauer said. "Children playing outside or young athletes may not recognize the symptoms and think they have to play through the pain. Left alone, heat exhaustion can turn to heat stroke and potentially become fatal."

Steinbauer suggests that when you first suspect heat exhaustion, stop what you are doing, drink water and get to a cooler environment. If a person becomes confused and has an elevated body temperature greater then 104 F they should be taken to an emergency facility.

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Take preventative measures

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While a quick reaction is good, prevention is better. Steinbauer suggests drinking plenty of fluids, such as water. Sports drinks are also an option to replace electrolytes that are lost in sweat but should be supplemented with water as well.

Being aware of your environment is also important. In humid temperatures you are more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion. Don’t forget to wear cool clothing and take breaks from the heat.

Those most at risk include children, young athletes (particularly football players who are wearing heavy equipment), those who are overweight and the elderly. Some common medications such as antihistamines, diuretics, anticonvulsants and anti-depressants may also increase the risk of heat exhaustion.

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