Heat stroke is a potentially very dangerous injury that results from long exposures to high temperatures or physical exertion. It requires emergency treatment. A core body temperature of 104° F or higher in an athlete, or anyone, is the threshold. Untreated, damage can quickly occur to your brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. The longer it goes, the higher risk of death.
Heat stroke warning signs
- Red Hot Skin
- Dizziness and fainting
- Extreme fatigue
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Rapid Heart Rate and breathing
- Mental confusion, agitation, slurred speech, and irritability
- Seizures and coma
- Lack of sweating
- Severe headache
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Causes of heat stroke
Exposure to a hot environment leads to a rise in core temperature. This can occur over several days, for example, in hot humid weather. This is always a concern for teams practicing in the summer months.
Risks for heat stroke
Duration of exposure is a key factor, especially during two-a-day practices in the summer. Age is important. Older people don’t have the reserve to compensate and get worse quickly. Some blood pressure medications may also increase your risk. Obesity, heart disease and lung disease all increase the risk.
Treatment of heat stroke
The goal is to bring down body temperature any way possible. A cold water bath, misted cool water, ice packs, cooling blankets and medications all may help lower your core temperature.
Treatments you can start yourself are mostly common sense. Get in a cool environment quickly. Take a cool shower, drink plenty of water – don’t use juices or alcohol – these may make you feel worse.
Prevention of heat stroke
Most training programs and athletic trainers work to prevent this condition. Discussion with team physicians and coaches are helpful to develop an emergency plan in the event of an athlete overheating. Awareness of the condition will help with prevention.
Dr. Scott Hacker is a Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon in San Diego, CA, Team Surgeon to the US Olympic Team. He specializes in sports medicine and sports injuries, knee and shoulder surgery.
If you have questions about heat stroke, or would like to discuss prevention strategies for your team, please feel free to contact me at Ask Dr. Hacker or through my office.
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