Your body stays cool by sweating and releasing heat through your skin. If this cooling system fails, your body temperature may rise to very high levels. In severe cases, your brain and other vital organs may shut down. This is known as heatstroke. Unless your body is cooled, death can occur within minutes.

Man sitting on bench with basketball, holding hand to head.

Symptoms of heatstroke

  • Confusion; fainting

  • Body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • Hot, dry skin

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Quick, shallow breathing

  • Loss of balance

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

Heatstroke is an extreme medical emergency.

Call 911 right away. Until help arrives, move the affected person into the shade. Remove the person’s clothing, and apply cool water or wet towels or sheets.

What to expect in the ER

  • To cool the body, lukewarm water and large fans may be used. Ice packs may be applied to the neck, armpits, and groin. Cooling blankets may also be used.

  • In severe cases, tubes may be used to flush the stomach and/or rectum with cool liquid.

  • Intravenous fluids will likely be given. These help cool the body and replenish fluids.

  • Blood and urine tests will likely be done. These can help detect damage to organs.