Heat Stroke: Facts & Statistics

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

Heat stroke is something that many people don't think about until it affects them, but that may be too late. This lesson will cover some of the facts and statistics related to heat stroke.

What is Heat Stroke?

Most people get excited about the thought of warmer weather and being able to get outdoors to enjoy summer time activities. Swimming, jet skiing, gardening, cookouts, and simply laying out in the sun are some of the activities we look forward to each year when the temperature goes up. While we enjoy everything that a nice hot, sunny day affords us, we must also remember that there is a potential danger that exists in being in the heat for extended periods of time especially if you are very active in the heat.

Fun in the sun can turn deadly if a heat stroke occurs
Picture of people at a water park

A serious medical emergency known as a heat stroke occurs when the body's temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit due to long periods in the heat or exerting yourself through physical activity in the heat. Our bodies are normally pretty good at staying around the normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees F. When we are dehydrated or in very hot and humid climates, then our bodies may not be able to cool themselves off as quickly, as heat is accumulating in our bodies and this causes a heat stroke.

Facts About Heat Stroke

So you know what a heat stroke is, but what are some of facts that you need to know about them?

First, it is a medical emergency. A heat stroke must be treated by medical professionals as soon as it occurs. If it isn't treated promptly, then it is likely to result in death within a short period of time. The window of time for treatment is about 30 minutes after which permanent damage is done and death is not far away. Use methods to cool the body down while waiting for medical help. This includes ice baths, putting on loose clothing, and definitely getting into a much cooler environment.

Secondly, you should know the symptoms of a heat stroke. Most people suffering a heat stroke will have symptoms of altered sweating, rapid breathing and heart rate, flushing of the skin, headache, and changes in behavior and mood. The person may even seem confused and not able to think clearly.

You should know the preventative measures so you can avoid heat stroke. Keep in mind that higher temperatures put more demands on the body and sweating is the main mechanism to cool the body down. So it is a good idea to drink plenty of fluids prior to, while, and after being outside on hot and/or humid days. Avoid extended periods of time in the heat and don't do strenuous work in the heat if at all possible. This includes not exercising or working out in high temperatures.

The biggest prevention for infants and young children is to not leave them in cars when it is warm outside. This is a preventative measure like the last section, but it deserves some special attention since this is the number one reason for heat stroke in children under the age of 5. Cars heat up faster than the outside, so it doesn't take long for the car to get extremely hot, even if it isn't very hot outside. The car essentially turns into a heat box, and if children cannot get out on their own their bodies will overheat, causing a heat stroke.

Athletes are among the populations most prone to have a heat stroke
Picture of a man running in the sun

Lastly, you should know that there are certain groups of people that are more prone to have a heat stroke. Athletes, outdoor workers, infants, and the elderly are more likely to have a heat stroke than those that don't fit in these categories. Athletes and outdoor workers are more at risk because they perform physical work outside in the heat for extended periods of time. Infants are more at risk because they are so much smaller and it doesn't take much for their body temperature to increase, and they cannot cool off fast enough. The elderly are normally a little more fragile and their bodies may not regulate their temperatures as well as they used to. The other big factor that puts the elderly at risk is that many are on some type of medication that is likely to cause dehydration. You can't sweat when you are dehydrated.

Statistics on Heat Stroke

We got the facts down about what is happening and who is at risk, so let's look at some statistics on heat stroke.

Heat stroke is among the leading causes of death in young adults and teens. This is largely due to heat strokes occurring during practices and sporting events outdoors. Most cases of heat stroke can be prevented in this age group.

There has been an increase in the number of heat stroke deaths since the year 2000 with the elderly still making up the majority of heat stroke deaths.

Over 9,000 documented heat stroke deaths occurred between 1979 and 2013. This is believed to actually be higher, but certain deaths were not documented as being caused by heat stroke on death certificates.

The last 30 years has seen an average rate of 1 heat stroke death per 2 million people in the US. There are years when this rate spiked due to severe heat waves and/or humidity.

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