Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
During a heat wave, it's important to know and be able to
recognize the signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness. There are different
types of heat-related illnesses, ranging from those that cause temporary
discomfort to the generally fatal condition known as heat stroke. In all
illnesses, the symptoms appear when a person is exposed to extreme temperatures.
What are the symptoms and signs of heat-related illness?
The following checklist can help you recognize the symptoms of heat-related
Heat cramps: A person who has
been exercising or participating in other types of strenuous activity in the
heat may develop painful muscle spasms
in the arms, legs, or abdomen referred to as
heat cramps. The body
temperature is usually normal, and the skin will feel moist and cool, but
Heat syncope: Someone who
experiences heat syncope (fainting) will experience the sudden onset of
dizziness or fainting
after exposure to high temperatures, particularly after exercising in the
heat. As with heat cramps, the skin is pale and sweaty but remains cool. The
pulse may be weakened, and the heart rate is usually rapid. Body temperature is normal.
Heat exhaustion: Heat
exhaustion is a warning that the body is getting too hot. Those most prone to
heat exhaustion include elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot
environment. A person with heat exhaustion may be thirsty, giddy, weak,
uncoordinated, nauseous, and sweating
profusely. As with heat syncope and heat cramps, the body temperature is
usually normal in heat exhaustion. The heart rate (pulse rate) is normal or
elevated. The skin is usually cold and clammy.
Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a
serious, life-threatening condition that occurs when the body loses its
ability to control its temperature. Victims of heat stroke almost always die,
so immediate medical attention is
essential when problems first begin. In heat stroke, a person develops a
fever that rapidly rises to dangerous levels within minutes. A person with
heat stroke usually has a body temperature above 104 F (40 C), but the temperature
may rise even higher. Other symptoms and signs of heat stroke may include
confusion, combativeness, bizarre behavior, feeling faint, staggering,
strong rapid pulse, dry flushed skin, and lack of sweating. Delirium or coma
can also result from heat stroke.
While heat cramps, heat syncope, and heat exhaustion may all be present in
mild degrees, you should always contact a doctor or seek emergency medical
attention if the symptoms of these conditions are severe or worsen with time.
Heat stroke is a true medical emergency. If a person has the symptoms of heat
stroke, you should notify emergency services (911) immediately.
Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine
Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/9/2016
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