Heat Stroke – How to recognise and provide prompt, safe and effective first aid

In this article we provide expert guidance on how to recognise and provide effective first aid treatment for people experiencing heat stroke.

Following on from our article last week that provided guidance on how to recognise and treat heat exhaustion (that can be found here) this week we are following up with another serious heat related condition called Heat Stroke.

Heat Stroke is an extremely dangerous condition that requires prompt, safe and effective first aid as the hypothalamus which is the temperature control centre in the brain has failed. This results in the body temperature being unable to cool down through sweating and the core body temperature can quickly reach dangerously high levels (over 40° C) within 10 – 15 minutes. As the brain becomes affected you become very confused, may have seizures, or may go into a coma. Some people die of heat stroke as the cells inside the body breakdown and vital organs fail.

Recognition of Heat Stroke;

If your casualty is experiencing heat stroke they will have various signs and symptoms such as;

  • Flushed, hot, dry skin and won’t be sweating
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Throbbing headache
  • A temperature of 40° C or above
  • Lowered levels of responsiveness leading to unconsciousness
  • Possibility of seizure
  • Nausea, vomiting

First Aid treatment for Heat Stroke should include;

  • Immediately move the casualty to a cool shaded area
  • Call 99/112 for emergency help
  • Remove excess clothing and try to cool them by wrapping the casualty in a cold wet sheet, keep it wet and cold until the casualty’s temperature returns to normal levels, then replace with a dry sheet. You could also sponge down the casualty with tepid water and fan the casualty.

Who’s at risk?

Heatstroke can affect anyone, but some people are more at risk than others and should take extra precautions during warm weather, especially during a heatwave. These include:

  • the elderly
  • babies and young children
  • people with conditions that affect the body’s ability to cool down, such as diabetes
  • those who have drunk too much alcohol (which dehydrates the body)
  • people on certain drugs and medications, such as antipsychotics and betablockers
  • people who might find it difficult to keep cool during a heatwave – for example, those who are bed-bound or disabled.

Essential 6 provide expert first aid training and you can find out more about the range of first aid training courses here

Essential 6