What are the signs of heatstroke?

What are the signs of heatstroke?

Woman fanning herself

It’s always an exciting time when the UK weather heats up, even if it doesn’t stay around for very long! Everyone floods outdoors to sunbathe or to spark up the barbecue to make the most of the fleeting British summer time. But when we get too hot, we may begin to feel unwell; this is known as heat exhaustion.

While heat exhaustion isn’t anything to worry about, it can lead to heatstroke, which is a medical emergency. In this guide we’ll explain what heatstroke is, the symptoms, how to prevent it, and what to do if you or somebody you know is suffering from heatstroke.

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke, sometimes known as sunstroke, occurs when your body is unable to control its internal temperature. A normal body temperature is usually around 37°C, but if you have heatstroke, it can rise to 40°C and above – this is extremely dangerous!

Heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, but it can also come on quickly if the weather is extremely hot or you’re exerting yourself. Children, the elderley and those with long-term health conditions such as heart problems and diabetes are more at risk of developing heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

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What are the symptoms?

So, what are the symptoms? As heatstroke is often caused from prolonged heat exhaustion, we’ll discuss the symptoms of both to make you aware of what to look out for.

Remember, heat exhaustion isn’t typically dangerous as long as you cool yourself down within 30 minutes, but heatstroke is. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Sweating
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Cramping in the arms, legs and stomach
  • Rapid breathing or pulse
  • A high temperature of 38°C or above
  • Extreme thirst

Woman hot after exercise

The symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Still feeling unwell after resting for 30 minutes in a cool place and drinking plenty of fluids
  • Not sweating, even if you feel too hot
  • A high temperature of 40°C or above
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • A fit (seizure)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Not responsive

If you suspect somebody is suffering from heatstroke, it should be treated as a medical emergency and 999 needs to be called. If the person is unresponsive or they lose consciousness, put them in the recovery position while you’re waiting for help to arrive.

How to prevent heatstroke

When it’s hot or you’re doing exercise, it’s important that you take steps to prevent heat exhaustion, and by extension, heat stroke. Here are some things you might want to consider:

  • Drink plenty of cold fluids, especially when you’re exercising
  • Take cool baths or showers
  • Dress for the weather, in light-coloured, loose clothing
  • Spray water over your skin
  • Avoid the sun when it’s at its peak – this is usually between the hours of 11am-3pm
  • Don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Avoid extreme exercise when the weather’s hot

By doing these things, you’re preventing dehydration and you’re helping your body to keep itself cool. If somebody is already suffering from heat exhaustion, there are things you can do to cool them down:

  • Start by moving them to a cool place, indoors or in the shade
  • Lie them down and slightly raise their feet
  • Ensure they drink plenty of fluids – ideally cold water, but sports or rehydration drinks are suitable, too
  • Cool their skin by spraying or sponging them down with cool water. You can also fan them or place cold packs around the armpits and neck
  • They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes

Couple jumping into the sea

Summer is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy the warmer, longer days with your loved ones. But too much heat can make you very unwell, so make sure you’re careful!

Beat the heat this summer by following this helpful guide and fight off heat exhaustion and heatstroke to enjoy summer safely. Remember, if you need any more information on heat exhaustion or heatstroke, visit the NHS website.

Alexandra Moses - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Prescribing Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Prescribing Pharmacist on 16 May 2022
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