Signs and Treatment of Heat Exhaustion


Summer is here, and temperatures are high! It’s important to be aware of the increased risk of heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion happens when your body overheats. It often starts with heat cramps, progresses to heat exhaustion, and concludes with heatstroke. Although heat exhaustion is not as dangerous as heatstroke, it is not to be taken lightly. Without intervention, heat exhaustion can advance to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition. Thankfully, the symptoms of heat exhaustion are easy to recognize.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion can develop suddenly or over time, especially when exercising.

• Cold, pale, clammy skin – sometimes accompanied by goosebumps

• Profuse sweating

• Headache

• Dizziness

• Fatigue

• Weak, rapid pulse

• Low blood pressure upon standing

• Abdominal or muscle cramps

• Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting

• Confusion

• Fainting

• Dark-colored urine


Causes of Heat Exhaustion 

Causes of heat exhaustion include:

• Dehydration

• Exposure to high temperatures, especially when combined with high humidity

• Strenuous physical activity

• Hot weather

• Alcohol use

• Overdressing


Risk Factors for Heat Exhaustion 

Anyone can develop heat exhaustion, but certain factors increase your sensitivity to heat. They include:

• A high heat index: When the heat index is 91 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you should take precautions to keep cool.

• Age: Children younger than 4 and adults 65+ are at a higher risk of heat exhaustion because they adjust to heat more slowly than people in other age groups.

• Sudden temperature changes.

• Certain drugs: Medications that affect your body’s ability to respond appropriately to heat and/or stay hydrated include: beta-blockers, stimulants, diuretics, antihistamines, sedatives, tranquilizers, antipsychotics, heart and blood pressure medications.

• Certain health conditions: Diabetes, alcoholism, obesity or underweight, high blood pressure, mental illness, sickle cell disease, sunburn, and heart, lung, or kidney disease. Also, any conditions that cause fever.


Treatment for Heat Exhaustion

If you think you’re experiencing heat exhaustion:

• Stop all activity and rest.

• If possible, take a cool shower or bath. A cool towel placed on the forehead and neck can also be effective.

• Move to a cooler place – find a shady spot or preferably an air-conditioned area.

• Drink cool water or a sports drink that contains electrolytes – NO caffeine or alcohol.

• Remove restrictive and/or unnecessary clothing.


Seek immediate medical attention if your symptoms do not improve or worsen. Untreated heat exhaustion can become heat stroke.