Health conditions

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is an uncommon but life threatening complication of grossly elevated body temperature with exercise in heat stressed settings.

REMEMBER: it is early recognition and first aid in heat stroke that is critical to save a life.

What causes heat stroke?

The risk is highest with:

  • high temperatures and/or
  • high humidity and/or
  • vigorous activity.
What are the signs and symptoms of heat stroke?

The first signs of heat stroke show in the function of the brain and nervous system.

Look for any signs of:

  • confusion
  • incoherent speech
  • abnormal walking
  • coma or seizures.

In conditions likely to cause heat-related health effects always suspect heat stroke if a person becomes acutely unwell or collapses, especially if they don’t recover promptly on lying flat with the legs elevated. Although there are many possible causes of acute illness or collapse, heat stroke is one of the most important.

How is heat stroke treated?

Heatstroke is an extreme medical emergency. If not treated immediately, it can lead to permanent damage to vital organs, or even death. Dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance and stay with the person until the ambulance arrives.

While waiting for the ambulance to arrive:

  • STRIP the person of as much clothing as possible
  • SOAK with any available water
  • FAN vigorously by whatever means possible – improvise, e.g. use a clipboard, bin lid

When available cool or ice water immersion is the most effective cooling means possible.

  • IMMERSE the person up to the neck in a cool or ice bath
  • COVER all of the body with ice water soaked towels that are changed frequently as an alternative if a bath isn’t available but ice is

  • REMEMBER: it is early recognition and first aid in heat stroke that is critical to save a life.

Where to get help

  • For emergency or life-threatening conditions, visit an emergency department or dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance
  • See your doctor

Last reviewed: 23-12-2021

Public & Aboriginal Health Division

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.