Heat Stroke (Sunstroke): Symptoms and Treatment


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What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke or sunstroke occurs due to sudden overheating of the body as a result of exposure to very high temperatures, or due to prolonged physical exertion at very high temperatures. This is a very common occurrence in India during the summertime.

Please Note: Heat stroke requires emergency treatment. The condition can become extremely severe if treatment is delayed and can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. It can even result in death.

How does heat stroke occur?

Considered to be a medical emergency, heat stroke is the most severe form of heat injury which can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The complications can become severe if treatment is delayed. Heat stroke occurs when the body is exposed to extremely high temperatures and the core body temperature increases to 104 °F (40 °C) and above. Dehydration immediately occurs, followed by other symptoms such as exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, headache, disorientation, confusion, loss of consciousness and sometimes even coma.

Who is prone to heat stroke?

Those who are most at risk of heat stroke include:

  • infants

  • athletes

  • the elderly (especially those who suffer from heart diseases, lung diseases, kidney diseases, or who are taking medications that make them vulnerable to dehydration and heat strokes)

  • individuals who work outside and physically exert themselves under the sun

  • infants, children, or pets left in locked cars

What are the causes of heat stroke?

The main causes of heat stroke are:

  • exposure to an extremely hot environment

  • performing physically strenuous activities under the sun

  • being left in locked cars in extremely hot conditions

Heat stroke can also be accelerated if :

  • you wear excessive clothing in hot weather which prevents the sweat from evaporating

  • if you drink excessive alcohol in the heat

  • if you are dehydrated as you are not drinking enough water

What are the symptoms of heat stroke? How is heat stroke diagnosed?

The signs of heat stroke include:

  • extremely high body temperature.

  • mental delirium, seizures, confusion, irritability or altered mental state and behaviour

  • nausea and vomiting

  • flushed red skin

  • heavy and rapid breathing

  • high pulse rate as your heart suddenly beats faster to cool down your body.

  • a severe headache


Any general practitioner can easily diagnose heat stroke by asking you about your symptoms. He will take check your body temperature and may also take your rectal temperature. Based on the severity of your condition he may ask you to undergo:

  • A urine test to check if there is any damage to the kidney due to heat stroke complications and also to check the colour of your urine

  • A blood test to check your sodium and potassium levels.

  • ECG is performed to see the activity of the heart

  • A chest x-ray may be prescribed to check for aspiration of fluids and lung oedema etc.

  • MRI and CT scan may also be advised to detect any damages in the large organs of the body.

What are the complications of heat stroke?

Depending on how long the body temperature has been high, heat stroke can give rise to serious complications such as:

  • serious organ damage

  • seizures

  • coma

  • death

How to prevent heatstroke?

For heat stroke prevention follow these simple steps:

  • Apply sunscreen liberally before you venture out. use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Do not forget to cover your head maybe with a scarf or a hat and wear eyeglasses to protect your eyes.

  • Wear comfortable loose clothing.

  • Keep yourself hydrated. Drink plenty of water and fruit juices.

  • Do not leave your children or pets locked in a parked car. This has caused many deaths of both children and pets. When parked directly under the sun the temperature in the car can escalate upto 20 °F (more than 6.7 °C) in 10 minutes.

  • Avoid any form of strenuous physical activity as much as possible in the direct heat. Even if it is necessary, make sure medical services are readily available, or you have the medical emergency numbers handy.

  • Avoid going out when the sun is at its highest (noon times) because then the temperature is at the maximum. Venture out in late evenings or early mornings.

What is the treatment for heat stroke?

Depending on your condition the doctor may prescribe medicines to control your shivering and fits. If there are any complications such as respiratory distress, brain disorder, or kidney or liver damage then the conditions are managed according to the severity and symptoms.

You may be taken to a cool room with air conditioning or you may even be dipped in cool water if the doctor thinks it is necessary. Again if you have suffered from moderate dehydration, you may be administered intravenous fluids.

Ice packs may be applied to your neck, armpits, and groins to cool down your body.

The cooling is stopped once the body temperature is < 38.5ºC, to avoid overcooling.

Would you like to consult a doctor for Heat Stroke (Sunstroke) ?

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
She is suffering from heat stroke. She is suffering from headache and mild fever for 2 days. Please suggest
Dr. Venkat Raghav
General Physician, Bangalore
Hello...  Apply ice packs to the patient's armpits, groin, neck, and back. Because these areas are rich with blood vessels close to the skin, cooling them may reduce body temperature.Immerse the patient in a shower or tub of cool water.When the heat index is high, it's best to stay in an air-conditioned environment..
Verified User
Having diarrhoea and head ache and feeling weak since last two days went for a stroll in the evening on Tuesday at about 6:15 pm, symptoms just randomly crept up. What should be done!
Dr. Chethan R S
General Physician, Bangalore
Hi...., you have developed dehydration... Dehydration happens when more fluid is lost by the body than is replaced by drinking liquids. The risk of dehydration increases in hot weather and because of severe vomiting or diarrhoea....Drink plenty of water to help to replenish the total body water....Consider oral rehydration salts for electrolyte imbalance.... If the diarrhea is caused by bacteria then you need to take antibiotics... Consult Physician.....
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Did you know?

Heat stroke is a medical emergency

Heat stroke requires emergency treatment. The condition can become extremely severe if treatment is delayed and can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. It can even result in death if not promptly and properly treated.

Prevention is better than cure

To prevent heat stroke, prevent dehydration, drink plenty of water and avoid all forms of vigoroud activities in hot and humid weather.

Do NOT leave Infants and pets in closed cars in hot weather

Leaving infants and animals in locked cars in hot weather can cause heat stroke and death. In fact, even in moderate weather the temperature within a closed car can reach dangerous levels. The best thing to do would be to never leave your infants and pets in closed cars at any time.

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Home Remedies

Drink Coconut Water

Coconut water will cool down your body immediately, besides it also has essential vitamins and minerals which will replenish your body if you suffer from dehydration. Drink at least two glasses of coconut water per day.

Drink Aam Panna

Aam Panna is a refreshing drink which also works as a health tonic. Made with raw mangoes and spices, such as cumin, fennel, pepper and kala namak (rock salt) it can instantly cool and also provide both energy and electrolytes to the body. This juice should be consumed at least two to three times in a day.

Drink Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a good source of probiotics and helps in replenishing your body with essential vitamins and minerals that may be lost due to excessive sweating. Drink at least two to three glasses of buttermilk everyday.

Drink Coriander and Mint Juice

Extract the juice of coriander or mint leaves. Add some sugar and water to the juice and drink this at least twice a day. This will immediately cool your body. Infact, according to Ayurveda, these herbs have a cooling effect on the body.

Tulsi Or Fennel Seeds

Soak a concoction of tulsi seeds in some water. Drink the water along with the seeds. This cools down your body immediately. Fennel seeds are also known as a cooling spice. Soak a handful of fennel seeds in a glass of water overnight. Strain and drink the water in the morning. This will keep your body cool and guard you against the heat.