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Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke: How to Tell the Difference

What Are Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke (Definitions)?

Patient Comments

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are both a type of heat-related illness. Other types of heat illnesses include heat rash, heat cramps, and heat syncope (fainting).

Heat exhaustion often occurs when people work or play in a hot, humid environment and body fluids are lost through sweating, which causes the body to overheat and become dehydrated. The temperature may be elevated, but not above 104 F (40 C).

Heat stroke (also called heatstroke or sunstroke) also is a heat-related illness, and it is a life-threatening medical condition. It usually develops because of untreated heat exhaustion. The body's cooling system, which is controlled by the brain, stops working and the internal body temperature rises to the point at which brain damage or damage to other internal organs may result (temperature may reach 105 F or greater [40.5 C or greater]).

Which Condition Is Worse, Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is a more dangerous health condition than heat exhaustion because a person suffering from heat stroke can die. The body’s core temperature can become so high that brain damage or damage to internal organs may happen, which can permanently damage a person's health.

Both heat-related illnesses are more dangerous when they happen in children or the elderly, or in people that have certain pre-existing health conditions.

Chart of the Differences Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke Symptoms and Warning Signs

Patient Comments

Symptoms of heat exhaustion are milder than symptoms of heat stroke, which can be severe. The signs and symptoms of these heat-related illnesses may not always be apparent in children or the elderly.

Chart Comparing Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke Symptoms and Signs
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms & Warning SignsHeat Stroke Symptoms & Warning Signs
Pale, cool, clammy skinFlushed, hot, dry skin
Profuse sweatingThe person may no longer sweat due to dehydration.
Core body temperature usually is elevated to more than 100 F (37.7 C), but not above 104 F (40 C)Core body temperature is 105 F (40.5 C) or more.
Dizziness or lightheadednessFainting, confusion, coma
Blood pressure changes (may be high or low)
Hyperventilation (rapid breathing)

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/25/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke (Differences and Similarities):

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke - Experience

Please share your experience with heat exhaustion or heat stroke (or both).

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke - Symptoms

What symptoms and signs did you experience when you suffered heat exhaustion or heat stroke?

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke - Causes

What caused your case of heat exhaustion or heat stroke?

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke - Treatments

What treatment did you receive for heat exhaustion or heat stroke?

Heat Cramps Symptoms and Signs

Heat cramps are brief, painful muscles cramps that can happen when you exercise or work in a hot, humid environment or extreme heat. It's one of several heat-related illnesses. The only sign of heat cramps are muscle spasms. These spasms are painful, brief, involuntary, they come and go (intermittent), and usually resolve on their own.



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