What is heat stroke?

Updated: Nov 06, 2018
  • Author: Robert S Helman, MD; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Answer

Heat illness may be viewed as a continuum of illnesses relating to the body's inability to cope with heat. It includes minor illnesses, such as heat edema, heat rash (ie, prickly heat), heat cramps, heat tetany, as well as heat syncope and heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is the most severe heat-related illness and is defined as a body temperature higher than 40°C (104°F) associated with neurologic dysfunction. [1, 2]

Two forms of heat stroke exist. Exertional heat stroke (EHS) generally occurs in young individuals who engage in strenuous physical activity for a prolonged period in a hot environment. Classic nonexertional heat stroke (NEHS) more commonly affects sedentary elderly individuals, persons who are chronically ill, and very young persons. Classic NEHS occurs during environmental heat waves and is more common in areas that do not typically experience periods of prolonged hot weather. Both types of heat stroke are associated with high morbidity and mortality, especially when cooling therapy is delayed.


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