It's usually apparent to doctors if you have heatstroke, but laboratory tests can confirm the diagnosis, rule out other causes for your symptoms and assess organ damage. These tests include:
- Rectal temperature to check your core body temperature. A rectal temperature is the most accurate way of determining your core body temperature and is more accurate than mouth or forehead temperatures.
- A blood test to check blood sodium or potassium and the content of gases in your blood to see if there's been damage to your central nervous system.
- A urine test to check the color of your urine, because it's usually darker if you have a heat-related condition, and to check your kidney function, which can be affected by heatstroke.
- Muscle function tests to check for serious damage to your muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis).
- X-rays and other imaging tests to check for damage to your internal organs.
Heatstroke treatment centers on cooling your body to a normal temperature to prevent or reduce damage to your brain and vital organs. To do this, your doctor may take these steps:
- Immerse you in cold water. A bath of cold or ice water has been proved to be the most effective way of quickly lowering your core body temperature. The quicker you can receive cold water immersion, the less risk of death and organ damage.
- Use evaporation cooling techniques. If cold water immersion is unavailable, health care workers may try to lower your body temperature using an evaporation method. Cool water is misted on your body while warm air is fanned over you, causing the water to evaporate and cool your skin.
- Pack you with ice and cooling blankets. Another method is to wrap you in a special cooling blanket and apply ice packs to your groin, neck, back and armpits to lower your temperature.
- Give you medications to stop your shivering. If treatments to lower your body temperature make you shiver, your doctor may give you a muscle relaxant, such as a benzodiazepine. Shivering increases your body temperature, making treatment less effective.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Home treatment isn't enough for heatstroke. If you have signs or symptoms of heatstroke, seek emergency medical help. Others should take steps to cool you off while waiting for emergency help to arrive. Don't drink any fluids while waiting for medical assistance.
If you notice signs of heat-related illness, lower your body temperature and prevent your condition from progressing to heatstroke. In a lesser heat emergency, such as heat cramps or heat exhaustion, the following steps may lower your body temperature:
- Get to a shady or air-conditioned place. If you don't have air conditioning at home, go someplace with air conditioning, such as the mall, movie theater or public library.
- Cool off with damp sheets and a fan. If you're with someone who's experiencing heat-related symptoms, cool the person by covering him or her with damp sheets or by spraying with cool water. Direct air onto the person with a fan.
- Take a cool shower or bath. If you're outdoors and not near shelter, soaking in a cool pond or stream can help bring your temperature down.
- Rehydrate. Drink plenty of fluids. Also, because you lose salt through sweating, you can replenish salt and water with some sports drinks. If your doctor has restricted your fluid or salt intake, check with him or her to see how much you should drink and whether you should replace salt.
- Don't drink sugary or alcoholic beverages to rehydrate. These drinks may interfere with your body's ability to control your temperature. Also, very cold drinks can cause stomach cramps.
Aug. 15, 2017
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- Extreme heat. Ready Campaign. https://www.ready.gov/heat. Accessed June 15, 2017.
- O'Connor FG, et al. Exertional heat illness in adolescents and adults: Epidemiology, thermoregulation, risk factors, and diagnosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed June 15, 2017.
- Mechem CC. Severe nonexertional hyperthermia (classic heat stroke) in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed June 15, 2017.
- Extreme heat: A prevention guide to promote your personal health and safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.html. Accessed June 15, 2017.
- Ferri FF. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2017. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2017. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed June 15, 2017.
- Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 19, 2017.
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