top of page

Heat Stroke

What is Heat Stroke?

Heat injuries involve a spectrum of disorders ranging from cramps, to transient loss of consiousness (passing out or syncope) to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Many endurance athletes have experienced a muscle cramp and know that rest, stretching, fluids, and electrolytes tend to help. Heat stroke, however, is a medical emergency. This occurs when the core body temperature gets too high (above 40.5 degrees Celsius) and there is a failure of thermoregulatory mechanisms in the body. The heart is racing and the athlete is usually breathing very quickly and sweating profusely.  In certain situations the athlete can also have altered mental status.

What causes heat injuries?

Summer sports are at a high risk for heat

stroke. Image courtesy of Dr. Skelley.

Most athletes experience a heat injury when performing high endurance activities for prolonged periods of time in hot environments. Electrolyte imbalances can also play a roll in causing heat injuries. The change in core temperature and electrolyte changes make heat stroke a serious condition that can even result in death.

How are heat injuries treated?

Heat stroke is an emergency and the primary goals should be removing the athlete from the warm environment. We will use ice immersion, cooling blankets, and IV hydration to help bring down the core body temperature and replenish fluids. The athlete needs to be closely monitored after having signs and symptoms of heat stroke. Some athletes may have heat sensitivity for several months and even more than a year after the episode.


1. Bouchama A, Knochel JP. Heat Stroke. New England Journal of Medicine. 2002;346(25):1978-1988. doi:10.1056/NEJMra011089.

bottom of page