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Heat Stroke vs. Heat Exhaustion: Learn the difference and when symptoms are serious

July 19, 2018

Summer has kicked into high gear and with it comes the sweltering, often triple-digit temperatures.  As the mercury continues to climb, it’s important to be aware about the health dangers that accompany prolonged exposure to extreme heat and high temperatures.  According to the CDC, on average, over 600 people die from complications related to extreme heat each year in the United States — more than tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, lightning or any other weather event combined.  The two most common heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  As both are dangerous, it’s important to identify the warning signs and to react quickly and appropriately when they arise.


What’s the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

You know heatstroke and heat exhaustion are threats to your family, but do you understand the difference?

Both heat exhaustion and heatstroke are caused by exercising in an extremely hot, humid environment where the body becomes dehydrated.  Heat exhaustion is the precursor to heatstroke and is a direct result of the body overheating.  The main cause of a heat exhaustion is the body’s inability to cool itself. Sweat is your mechanism to cooling you down. If you strenuously exercise in hot weather or are exposed to long periods of time in extreme temperatures, your body may have difficulty producing enough sweat to keep you cool.  Muscle cramping is typically the first indication of heat exhaustion.  Other typical symptoms include a fever no higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, excessive thirst, nausea, fainting, cool and clammy skin, weakness, and dizziness.


A heatstroke can develop following heat exhaustion if the condition is not treated. It occurs when the body’s temperature rises and the cooling system completely stops working. A heatstroke is a life-threatening condition and is characterized by nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, fatigue, rapid heart rate, altered mental state and shortness of breath.



If you begin experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, attempt to locate cooler location immediately.  Obviously discontinue any strenuous activity and lie down if necessary.  Drink plenty of water and sports drinks to hydrate and replace electrolytes. If you have become nauseated or vomit, seek help from medical professional right away.

A heat stroke is considered a medical emergency. If you suspect that you or a family member is having a heat stroke, seek emergency services immediately.

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