Heat exhaustion

Handb Clin Neurol. 2018;157:505-529. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-64074-1.00031-8.


Heat exhaustion is part of a spectrum of heat-related illnesses that can affect all individuals, although children, older adults, and those with chronic disease are particularly vulnerable due to their impaired ability to dissipate heat. If left uninterrupted, there can be progression of symptoms to heatstroke, a life-threatening emergency. Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion may develop suddenly or over time. Exposure to a hot environment for a prolonged period and performing exercise or work in the heat can overwhelm the body's ability to cool itself, causing heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can be worsened by dehydration due to inadequate access to water or insufficient fluid replacement. Heat exhaustion can be managed by the immediate reduction of heat gain by discontinuing exercise and reducing radiative heat source exposure. The individual should be encouraged to drink cool fluids and remove or loosen clothing to facilitate heat loss. In more extreme situations, more aggressive cooling strategies (e.g., cold shower, application of wet towels) to lower core temperature should be employed. Heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion can be prevented by increasing public awareness of the risks associated with exposure to high temperatures and prolonged exercise.

Keywords: cooling; dehydration; exercise; heat illness; heat injury; heat stress; heat wave; hydration; vulnerable populations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Circulation / physiology
  • Blood Coagulation / physiology
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Heat Exhaustion* / complications
  • Heat Exhaustion* / diagnosis
  • Heat Exhaustion* / pathology
  • Humans