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General Medical Questions
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Question : What are the symptoms of sunstroke or heatstroke?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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May 22, 2012
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A:

It’s hard to define sunstroke. For this discussion, let’s think of it as we would heatstroke. Heatstroke happens when the body can no longer maintain a temperature of under 105 degrees when exposed to or exercising in hot weather. It is a life-threatening condition.

People almost always have warning symptoms before heat stroke. Sometimes they do not pay attention. Or they may be very old or disabled, and not able to take action.

The first symptoms of overheating are:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps

Once heatstroke sets in, you’d stop sweating, but not be thirsty. This is a very dangerous combination. Next, you’d start to be confused. A headache may come on at any time. But it is not always present in heatstroke.

Once someone shows any behavior changes related to dehydration or overexposure to heat, then the situation becomes an emergency.

Preventing heatstroke comes down to common sense. If you need to compete in warm temperatures, then you must drink plenty of fluids regularly. You should replenish fluids with a combination of sports drinks and water. Avoiding too much exposure to the sun and heat is the best prevention.

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