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8 Signs You Could Have Heat Stroke

The coronavirus isn’t the only danger out there.

The U.S. is the grips of its first widespread heat wave of the year: In the next several days, 90 percent of the country will experience temperatures in the 90s or above. That kind of intense heat raises the risk of heat-related illnesses like heat stroke, which can be serious and even fatal. Older people are at higher risk; so are people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. But everyone is susceptible, and the symptoms can be sneaky. Here's what to do, and what to avoid, to keep yourself safe as temps rise. 


Not Hydrating Enough


Dehydration is the #1 cause of heat stroke, and it can sneak up on you—particularly in older people. Experts say you should aim to drink five to six cups of water daily; when you're physically active or the temperature is high, you might need more. Bring water along when you're heading outdoors, and don't substitute caffeinated drinks or soda.


Pushing Yourself Too Hard

middle aged man in sports uniform is respiring deeply and leaning on his knees during morning run

Whether it's your daily run or brisk walk, a hike or bike trip, or just yard work you've been meaning to get to, you might need to dial back your outdoor physical activity when temperatures soar. Overexertion is one of the most common causes of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Be aware of the heat index when you're heading outdoors, and read on to learn the most common symptoms of overheating. 


Drinking Too Much Alcohol

man pouring a glass of wine

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes your body shed water. That can lead to dehydration if you overimbibe. During warmer weather, follow an alcoholic beverage with a glass of water. And for overall health, experts advise drinking in moderation at all times—defined as one alcoholic drink per day for women, and two for men. 


Dressing Too Warmly

woman suffering from heat stroke

Wearing heavy clothing or too many layers can trap heat and prevent sweat from cooling your skin, leading to overheating. Wear light, natural fabrics like cotton and linen in light colors, and avoid synthetics like polyester that are less breathable and dark colors, which retain heat. 


Ignoring the Forecast

Storm on the beach.

The heat index isn't just a number—it's important to be aware of it if you're someone who could be susceptible to heat stroke. The index factors humidity into the air temperature to gauge how hot it really feels outside. When humidity—and therefore the heat index—is high, the body's natural cooling process (e.g. sweating) doesn't work as efficiently, and you can become overheated more quickly. 


Taking Certain Medications

White prescription pills spilled onto a table with many prescription bottles in the background

Some medications—including antihistamines, diuretics, laxatives and other meds for conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease—can cause dehydration, increasing your risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Take extra care to stay hydrated, and follow your doctor's advice on how to stay healthy in hot weather. 


Being Overweight or Obese

obese woman

Carrying around extra pounds is a strain on all body systems, including the heart and circulation. It also makes your body generate more heat and retain it, making it harder for your body to cool off.


Not Knowing the Symptoms

Stressed woman drying sweat using a wipe in a warm summer day in a park

Heat stroke can sneak up on you if you're not sure what to look for.

Heat stroke might cause a high body temperature, a change in sweating (you might stop sweating or break out into a "cold sweat"), dizziness, confusion, nausea or vomiting, flushed skin, a high heart rate, rapid breathing or headache.

If you experience any of those symptoms, move inside immediately and hydrate. Attempt to cool down in a cool shower or bath or with cool compresses, and call 911. And to stay healthy during this pandemic: Wear a mask, avoid crowds (and bars), practice social distancing, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael
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