Heatstroke occurs when your body temperature rises dangerously high (above 104˚F) and your body is unable to cool down. It can be life threatening if not treated immediately. Older adults are more susceptible to stress from heat— especially during waves of hot, humid weather.

Certain medications, such as anticholinergics, beta-blockers and antidepressants, and chronic conditions like heart disease also diminish the body's self-cooling system.

Heatstroke is usually preceded by heat exhaustion—a less serious condition that can trigger

  • profuse sweating
  • muscle cramps
  • intense thirst
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • headache

If you experience any of these symptoms, drink plenty of water or other cool, nonalcoholic fluids and lie down in a shady or cool place. These steps can stop heat exhaustion from turning into heatstroke. But if your symptoms don't improve or get worse, seek emergency medical attention. If heatstroke develops, it's often incapacitating.

Signs of heatstroke are

  • hot, dry skin (often with no sweating)
  • rapid pulse
  • extreme dizziness
  • nausea

Because heatstroke affects the brain, a person can appear confused, disoriented and agitated. If not treated promptly, heatstroke can lead to seizures, coma and death.

You can take simple steps to avoid heat-related illnesses:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcoholic, caffeinated or sugary beverages, which can be dehydrating. The warmer the weather, the more you should drink.
  • On hot days, stay indoors in air-conditioned spaces as much as possible. Do your errands, exercise or other outdoor activities early to avoid the hottest part of the day. If you feel hot or tired, rest in shady areas.
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that "breathes."

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 19 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 07 Jan 2015