3 Times You’re Most Likely to Get Heat Stroke

Updated: Jun. 30, 2022

You're most at risk for heat stroke in these three situations. Here's how to avoid it and stay safer in the sun.

It’s summer, and you’re prepared for it all. You’re stocked with sunscreen, water bottles, bug spray, and even a floppy hat. Unfortunately, even our best efforts to stay safe in the sun are not always enough to protect us from the dangerous consequences of heat stroke.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a serious condition that occurs when our body’s temperature rises over 103 degrees Fahrenheit. It is usually the result of overexerting yourself in extreme heat and is an emergency. “With heat stroke, the body tries to lower its internal temperature by systematically shutting down organs to protect the heart and brain,” explains cardiologist Paula Montana De La Cadena, MD.

Heat stroke symptoms

Early signs of heat stroke can include hot, red skin, dizziness, nausea, confuxsion, and passing out. Know the 10 signs of heat stroke and watch out for any change in mental status. “The abnormal mental state might manifest as confusion, disorientation, impaired judgment, abnormal motor coordination, seizures, or loss of consciousness,” says David Geier, MD, orthopedic surgeon, and sports medicine specialist.

Heat stroke treatment

According to a study in Injury Epidemiology, each year there are about 4,100 emergency department visits for heat stroke in the United States. Heat stroke is serious and usually results in an admission to stay overnight at the hospital. Unlike heat exhaustion which can be treated by getting out of the heat and drinking cool water, heat stroke should never be treated at home. “Untreated heat stroke can cause serious damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles and can even lead to death the longer treatment is delayed,” warns Dr. Montana De La Cadena. To help prevent heat stroke, be aware of when you’re at risk, such as in these scenarios.

Woman runner legs running on mountain trail. Feet of woman runner running over stones on mountain trail.

Heat stroke cause: Pushing yourself in sports

Exerting yourself in extreme heat is a recipe for heat stroke. This can happen to athletes who practice outside in the summer months. “In sports, especially football, heat stroke events usually occur in July and August, when the heat and humidity are at their highest points for the year, and the athletes have not acclimatized to these conditions,” says Dr. Geier. (Here are the clear signs you’ve gotten too much sun.)

Heat stroke cause: Working outdoors

If you find yourself working outdoors this summer, stay mindful of taking breaks and drinking cold water. Anyone who does physical work such as farming, moving heavy equipment, or construction work is at risk of dehydration, heat stroke, and, on a lesser level, feeling grumpy.

Heat stroke cause: Becoming dehydrated

People who are more at risk of becoming dehydrated, like children or the elderly, are more at risk for heat stroke as well. If you have been diagnosed with a heart or liver condition, limit your time in the heat and always keep a water bottle with you. “For these groups, the process of dehydration occurs much faster, as the body’s compensatory measures don’t work as efficiently,” says Dr. Montana De La Cadena. Knowing the signs and symptoms of dehydration will help prevent heat stroke.