What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke?

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Published on July 28, 2021

What is the Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke?

Photo of a man experiencing heat stroke while on a hike

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), more than 600 people die each year from extreme heat in the United States. That’s more than any other weather events (tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, lightning) combined. But unlike other weather events, heat-related deaths and illnesses can be prevented.

As temperatures start to rise, consider these preventative tips to keep the body cool:

  • Stay indoors or in the shade
  • Drink 2-4 cups of water every hour while exposed to heat
  • Wear loose, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat
  • Spend part of the day in an air conditioned space, like the mall or a library
  • Take frequent breaks when working or exercising outdoors
  • Use cooler water for showers and baths

It’s important to recognize the warning signs and react in an appropriate manner. In the simplest terms, heatstroke happens when you don’t address heat exhaustion and it’s a direct result of your body overheating to temperatures of 104° degrees or higher.

Below are lists of different symptoms:

Heat Exhaustion Heatstroke
Heavy sweating Hot, dry skin
Rapid pulse Racing heartbeat
Dizziness Nausea and vomiting
Fatigue Dizziness or vertigo
Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat Altered mental state or behavior
Muscle cramps Fatigue
Nausea Rapid breathing
Headache Convulsions

“When heat exhaustion is suspected, get out of the sun and cool down by misting the body or using ice packs and loosening tight clothes,” said Michelle Choi DO, a PIH Health family medicine doctor in Montebello, CA. “It’s important to rehydrate by drinking plenty of water but avoid beverages that contain caffeine, alcohol or sugar. If symptoms worsen or do not improve within one hour, get medical attention to prevent heatstroke.”

If you suspect heatstroke, seek immediate medical attention.

Visit PIHHealth.org to learn about Family Medicine at PIH Health and to view Dr. Choi’s physician profile.  Call 323.728.0321 to make an appointment with Dr. Choi.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.