Heat Stroke Vs. Heat Exhaustion

Friday, August 15th, 2014

The temperatures are rising and the weather is warm! As with every season, the summer months bring a whole new set of health risks due to the changing weather. In the midst of all the summer fun, you may be too caught up in the excitement to recognize when your body has been negatively affected by the heat. We sat down with Matthew Synan, MD, of Pulmonary Consultants–UPMC to discuss two particular health risks that people encounter during the summer: heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

While they are two different conditions, many people often get confused because of their similarities. Both conditions are on the spectrum of temperature related illnesses, but differ in severity.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body temperature is less than or equal to 104 F (40 C).

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Dizziness
  • Mild confusion (which normalizes within 30 minutes of treatment)
  • A faster heart rate with normal blood pressure
  • Mild to moderate dehydration.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can be the more serious of the two conditions. It occurs when the body’s core temperature is greater than 104 F (40 C), and is characterized by:

  • Abnormal mental status (such as delirium, hallucinations, or slurred speech),
  • A faster heart rate coupled with low blood pressure
  • Moderate to severe dehydration

There are two distinct types of heat stroke and heat exhaustion: classic and exertional. Classic heat stroke and exhaustion can occur without any activity or physical exertion and is more common in individuals age 70 or older, or those who have a chronic medical condition. Exertional heat stroke and exhaustion occurs as a result of physical activity and is most common in young individuals who engage in heavy exercise during high temperatures such as athletes and military recruits.

Some medications, such as allergy, heart, or psychiatric prescriptions can put you at an increased risk because these medications may limit the body’s ability to sweat.

In the event that you should develop any symptoms of heat exhaustion, take actions quickly to cool yourself down by:

  • Removing clothing
  • Spraying yourself with cool water or taking a cool bath
  • Using fans
  • Applying ice packs to the armpit, neck, and groin.

If not taken care of quickly, both of these conditions may evolve and result in:

  • Kidney, respiratory, and liver failure
  • Muscle breakdown
  • Blood disorders
  • Death

Some ways to prevent the onset of these conditions is to limit your physical activity outside when the temperatures are highest or perform them in the evening when it is coolest. Also, wear loose clothing and take frequent breaks. Dr. Synan stresses that by far the most important thing to do is to drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated!

If you or someone you know has been hit with a heat-related illness, please follow these tips to help them recover. Do not hesitate to pay a visit to the Emergency Medicine at UPMC center for immediate treatment.



A world-renowned health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of accountable, cost-effective, patient-centered care. It provides more than $888 million a year in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates more than 60,000 employees, 20 hospitals, 500 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, a nearly 2.6-million-member health insurance division, and international and commercial operations. Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC ranks No. 13 in the prestigious U.S. News & World Report Read More