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Heat Exhaustion

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is when your body overheats. Normally, the body has a cooling system that is controlled by the brain. The cooling system adjusts to hot conditions and lowers your body temperature by producing sweat. With heat exhaustion, the body's cooling system is not working well and results in an increased body temperature.

What increases my risk for heat exhaustion?

  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • Medicines, including those used for treating pain, allergies, or depression
  • Illegal drugs or alcohol

What are the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion?

  • Heavy sweating
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, or weak
  • A headache or tiredness
  • Fast breathing or a fast heartbeat
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting

How is heat exhaustion diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will check your temperature. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood and urine tests may show if you are dehydrated and how your body is working.
  • An EKG test records your heart rhythm and how fast your heart beats. It is used to check for heart problems caused by heat exhaustion.

What first aid can I do for heat exhaustion?

  • Move to an air-conditioned location or a cool, shady area and lie down. Raise your legs above the level of your heart.
  • Drink cold liquid, such as water or a sports drink.
  • Mist yourself with cold water or pour cool water on your head, neck, and clothes.
  • Loosen or remove as many clothes as possible.
  • If you do not feel better in 1 hour, go to the emergency department.

How is heat exhaustion treated?

  • Cooling materials , such as ice-soaked blankets, may be used to quickly lower your body temperature.
  • IV fluids help prevent dehydration and complications of overheating.
  • An oral rehydrating solution is a drink that has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar your body needs. It is used to help prevent or treat dehydration.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I prevent heat exhaustion?

  • Wear lightweight, loose, and light-colored clothing.
  • Protect your head and neck with a hat or umbrella when you are outdoors.
  • Drink lots of water or sports drinks. Avoid alcohol.
  • Eat salty foods, such as salted crackers, and salted pretzels.
  • Limit your activities during the hottest time of the day. This is usually late morning through early afternoon.
  • Use air conditioners or fans and have enough proper ventilation. If there is no air conditioning available, keep your windows open so air can circulate.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.
  • You cannot move your arms and legs.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cannot stop vomiting.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your signs and symptoms do not improve with treatment.
  • You have numbness or prickling feeling in your arms or legs.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.