Heat-related illness

Am Fam Physician. 2011 Jun 1;83(11):1325-30.


Heat-related illness is a set of preventable conditions ranging from mild forms (e.g., heat exhaustion, heat cramps) to potentially fatal heat stroke. Hot and humid conditions challenge cardiovascular compensatory mechanisms. Once core temperature reaches 104°F (40°C), cellular damage occurs, initiating a cascade of events that may lead to organ failure and death. Early recognition of symptoms and accurate measurement of core temperature are crucial to rapid diagnosis. Milder forms of heat-related illness are manifested by symptoms such as headache, weakness, dizziness, and an inability to continue activity. These are managed by supportive measures including hydration and moving the patient to a cool place. Hyperthermia and central nervous system symptoms should prompt an evaluation for heat stroke. Initial treatments should focus on lowering core temperature through cold water immersion. Applying ice packs to the head, neck, axilla, and groin is an alternative. Additional measures include transporting the patient to a cool environment, removing excess clothing, and intravenous hydration. Delayed access to cooling is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in persons with heat stroke. Identification of at-risk groups can help physicians and community health agencies provide preventive measures.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Cold Temperature
  • Dizziness / etiology
  • Fever / etiology
  • Fluid Therapy / methods
  • Headache / etiology
  • Heat Exhaustion / diagnosis
  • Heat Exhaustion / etiology*
  • Heat Exhaustion / prevention & control
  • Heat Exhaustion / therapy
  • Heat Stress Disorders / etiology
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Ice
  • Muscle Weakness / etiology
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sunstroke / etiology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Ice