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Heat Illness Basics

1. What is a heat illness?
A heat illness is an adverse reaction to heat. This includes heat cramps, heat syncope, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. The most serious of these conditions, heat stroke, is a medical emergency, which if not treated properly can lead to serious complications or death.

2. How can I tell if someone is having a heat stroke?
The only way to detect if someone is having a heat stroke is through accurate core body temperature measurement. Currently, the only valid measure of core temperature for an exercising individual is a rectal recording, which should only be conducted by trained medical professionals. If you suspect someone of having a heat stroke, cooling should begin immediately. Heat stroke can occur in even cool environments.

3. How do I treat heat stroke?
If you suspect someone of having a heat stroke, cooling should begin immediately. Once an individual collapses there is approximately a 30-minute window to reduce their core temperature to prevent complications. For this reason it is highly recommended that at risk activities in the heat have cooling supplies readily available. If cooling supplies are available on-site then the athlete should be cooled first then transported to advanced care.

The most effective method of cooling is through cold-water immersion. This can be done in a whirlpool, kiddie pool or agricultural stock tank. The person's body should be fully immersed in ice water, with their head supported by a towel run underneath their shoulders. While the individual is immersed their core temperature should be assessed frequently, if possible, and the water should be continuously circulated to maximize cooling. Cold towels should be paced on the individual's head and circulated every 2-3 minutes. Once the individual's temperature has reached 102°F, they can be removed for further monitoring.

4. What can I do to prevent heat stroke?
There are several methods to decrease the risk of heat stroke. Ensuring that you are hydrated before working out, practicing during the cooler hours, and taking frequent breaks to allow you core temperature to recover are some strategies that you can employ to stay safe in the heat. Heat acclimatization, a gradual introduction to exercise in the heat, is one of the best methods to reduce the risk of heat illness. Further guidelines concerning heat acclimatization and other prevention methods can be found at

For more information, please visit the Korey Stringer Institute at