What Is The Difference Between Heat Stroke And Heat Exhaustion?

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Heat-related conditions are prevalent during the summer. Be prepared and learn about the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion below.

RELATED: When To Use A Cold Or Warm Compress For Pain And Swelling

In this article:

  1. What Is Heat Stroke?
  2. What Are the Causes of Heat Stroke?
  3. What Are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke?
  4. What Are the Risk Factors of Heat Stroke?
  5. What Is Heat Exhaustion?
  6. What Are the Causes of Heat Exhaustion?
  7. What Are the Signs of Heat Exhaustion?
  8. What Are the Risk Factors of Heat Exhaustion?
  9. How Can You Prevent Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion?

Heat Stroke Vs. Heat Exhaustion | What’s the Difference?

What Is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke or sunstroke is a serious heat-related condition caused by the overheating of the body due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. This life-threatening illness happens when the body temperature is elevated to 104ºF/40ºC or higher.

Usually prevalent during the summer, this heat-related emergency requires immediate treatment. When untreated, it can damage multiple organs and systems like the:

  • Brain and nervous system
  • Circulatory system
  • Lungs
  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Digestive tract
  • Muscles

Delay in treatment may increase the risk of complication or even death.

What Are the Causes of Heat Stroke?

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The two main causes of heat stroke are:

Extremely Hot Environment

This is also called a non-exertional or classic heat stroke. Prolonged exposure to hot and humid weather raises the body’s core temperature.

Taxing Physical Activities

Also called an exertional heat stroke, this happens when a person’s core body temperature spikes because of doing strenuous activity in hot weather. For example, if you workout during a very hot day, you can get an exertional heat stroke.

This is most likely to happen to people not used to high temperatures.

Other Causes

In either of the two types, the following can cause the condition:

  • Wearing too hot and excess clothing can prevent your sweat from evaporating and cooling your body down.
  • Alcohol intake can affect the body’s temperature regulation capability.
  • Dehydration can hinder the body’s ability to cool down since lost water from sweating isn’t replenished.

What Are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke?

The symptoms and signs of heat stroke include:

  • The main sign of heat stroke is a core body temperature of 104ºF/40ºC or higher.
  • Patients may become confused, irritated, delirious, and agitated. There is also the possibility of having a seizure, slurred speech, being in a coma.
  • The patient’s skin may turn red as body temperature spikes.
  • Stomach discomfort and vomiting may happen.
  • If it’s due to hot weather, the patient’s skin tends to feel hot and dry. If caused by extreme physical activity, the skin may feel dry or slightly moist.
  • The rate of breathing may become faster and more hollow.
  • The stress from the heat will place the heart under great tension as it tries to cool the body down.
  • Pounding headaches may occur, too.

What Are the Risk Factors of Heat Stroke?

Anybody can suffer from heat stroke but the following factors can increase the risk:

  • Age – The strength of our central nervous system (CNS) affects how well we respond and cope with extreme heat. Younger people with underdeveloped CNS and older people with weaker CNS are more likely to develop heat stroke.
  • Sports and Activities Done in Hot Weather – Playing sports and military training in hot weather may lead to heat stroke.
  • Sudden Heat Exposure – There a higher chance of getting heat stroke if you’re exposed to a sudden increase in temperature like when traveling to hotter places.
  • Certain Medications – Some medicines may affect the body’s ability to cope with heat and stay hydrated. If you take vasoconstrictors, beta blockers, or diuretics, be extra careful in hot weather.
  • Certain Illnesses – People with heart conditions, lung disease, or obesity are at more risk.

RELATED: The Importance Of Hydration: 9 Tips To Stay Hydrated

What Is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a milder heat-related condition often characterized by heavy sweating and a rapid pulse due to increased body temperature. If left untreated, it can progress to heat stroke.

What Are the Causes of Heat Exhaustion?

sweating woman | What Is The Difference Between Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion? | difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Like heat stroke, this condition is caused by exposure to high temperature, specifically with high humidity and while doing strenuous activities.

In hot temperatures, the body cools down by sweating. When sweat evaporates, our body temperature is regulated.

When doing strenuous activities or being in extremely hot humid weather, the body’s ability to cool itself efficiently is compromised. This may lead to heat cramps, the mildest heat-related illness, and may progress to heat exhaustion, then potentially to heat stroke.

Similarly, the risk of heat exhaustion is higher if you overdress, when intoxicated, or dehydrated.

What Are the Signs of Heat Exhaustion?

The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are closely similar to that of heat stroke:

  • A core body temperature higher than 100ºF/37.7ºC but not over 104ºF/40ºC
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Faintness and dizziness
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure when standing
  • Thirst
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Cool, moist skin

What Are the Risk Factors of Heat Exhaustion?

Since heat exhaustion likely happens before a person experiences heat stroke, the risk factors are pretty much similar to heat stroke.

How Can You Prevent Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion?

These heat-related conditions are highly preventable. Consider the following simple tips below.

  • During the summer, do not overdress. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothes.
  • Protect yourself from the sun, sunburn can affect the body’s cooling abilities. Wear sunglasses, a hat, and apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • If you take medications that might affect your body’s reaction to heat, always be on the lookout for symptoms.
  • Do not leave anyone, especially kids, in a parked car. When parked under the sun, the in-car temperature can rise up to 20ºF in about 10 minutes.
  • Keep the strenuous activities to a minimum during the hottest time of the day. If this can’t be prevented, make sure to drink plenty of water and take frequent rests to cool down.
  • Schedule activities or workouts for the cooler time of the day.
  • If not used to an area’s high temperature, get acclimated first before doing heavy activities. Your body may need up to several weeks to adjust to the temperature.
  • Stay alert and cautious if you have increased risk. If you’re under medications or have conditions which raise your risk, it’s best to avoid hot temperatures.

In the case of heat exhaustion, immediately cool the body of the person by fanning, sponging cold water, or giving cold fluids, if alert. For heat stroke, on the other hand, call for medical assistance immediately.

Here is a quick video from 6 On Your Side on the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke:

Aside from following the treatment tips above, you can also strengthen your immune system for extra protection with the help of supplements.

Do you have any other questions about heat-related conditions? Let us know in the comments section below!

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