Recognizing and Treating Heat Emergencies

  • Signs of more severe heat illness, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, include a high body temperature (above 102° F), skin that is red and hot with lack of sweating, small pupils, a rapid and weak pulse, rapid and shallow breathing, extreme confusion or irritability, weakness, seizures, unconsciousness.

  • Heat cramps are the first sign of a heat emergency. Symptoms consist of painful muscle cramps, heavy perspiration and general weakness and lightheadnesses. If the person does not take precautions to cool off and rehydrate at this point, more severe stages of heat illness will occur in a rapid progression.

  • Children, the elderly, the obese, and patients with heart conditions or who are taking medications such as beta blockers, diuretics, neuroleptics, phenothiazines, and anticholinergics are particularly vulnerable to heat emergencies. Take extra care to observe and provide preventative measures for these individuals.

  • Patient-Tailored Exercise Not Linked with Improved Back Pain Outcomes

    Patient-Tailored Exercise Not Linked with Improved Back Pain Outcomes

    Advise patients to avoid consuming alcohol or excessive, prolonged exercise in hot and humid weather, as these activities can lead to a heat emergency.

  • The aim of treatment in heat emergencies is to cool the patient down in a controlled fashion, and ensure hydration and normal blood flow. First aid involves having the person rest with their legs elevated in a shaded area or cool air-conditioned area, and remove or loosen clothes.

  • Give the person an electrolyte drink, such as Gatorade® or Pedialyte®, or water if not available. An electrolyte drink can be made by adding 1 teaspoon of salt to one quart of water. Do not give a person with heat stroke beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol.

  • Wrap the person in wet cloth, and position a fan toward him or her. Evaporation of water on the skin aids in cooling. Apply cold compresses to the neck, armpits and groin.

  • Once the acute phase is stabilized, further inpatient care may be necessary to address the complications of heatstroke. Long-term outpatient therapy may be required when chronic renal failure develops and when irreversible damage to the CNS, lungs, heart and liver occurs.

Next Prev
1 / 1
Share this content:

Heat emergencies are caused primarily by prolonged exposure to extreme heat and occur when a person's core body temperature rises above a safe level of the body's internal temperature range. While certain people are more likely to suffer from a heat emergency, everyone, including top athletes, can be affected.

There are three categories of a heat emergency: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Heatstroke, the most severe of the three, can cause brain damage, organ failure, and even death. However, these events can be avoided by taking precautions. Education is the single most important tool for prevention. Learn more about how to recognize and prevent heat emergencies with this slideshow.


  1. National Institutes of Health. Medline Plus: Heat Illness. 18 Sept 2012. Available at: Accessed: 12 Jul 2013.

You must be a registered member of Clinical Advisor to post a comment.

Sign Up for Free e-newsletters