Medical Definition of Heat exhaustion

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Heat exhaustion: A warning that the body is getting too hot. The person may be thirsty, giddy, weak, uncoordinated, nauseous, and sweating profusely. The body temperature is usually normal and the pulse is normal or raised. The skin is cold and clammy. Although heat exhaustion often is caused by the body's loss of water and salt, salt supplements should only be taken with advice from a doctor.

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood preset and people working or exercising in a hot environment.The warning signs of heat exhaustion include:

The skin may be cool and moist. The victim's pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention immediately if:

Otherwise, help the victim to cool off, and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than 1 hour. Cooling measures that may be effective include:

  • cool, non-alcoholic beverages, as directed by your physician
  • rest
  • cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
  • an air-conditioned environment
  • lightweight clothing

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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