The onset of heat stroke can be rapid, with progression to a life-threatening state within minutes. Symptoms vary and can include:
- Hot, dry skin (often with no sweating)
- Rapid pulse
- Flushed face
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Confusion or disorientation
- A change in behavior, such as agitation or combativeness
- Dizziness, fainting, or loss of consciousness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Staggering gait
If you suspect someone has heat stroke, call 911 right away. If not treated promptly, heat stroke can damage the brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
Heat stroke can also be fatal: The longer treatment is delayed, the higher the risk of death. Indeed, each year more than 600 deaths in the United States are associated with exposure to extreme natural heat, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines as “a period of excessively hot weather, with higher than average temperatures for a particular region, combined with high humidity.” Such periods are expected to become more frequent and more prolonged in many areas due to climate change.
This article first appeared in the July 2019 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.