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Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke: Know the Difference

Overheating in the summertime in Dallas is all part of the fun, right? In some cases, overheating can quickly turn serious and it is up to you to know how to respond. Knowing the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke is important in making a judgment call for medical treatment.

“The sooner you can get an overheated child or adult in to Advance ER, the better,” said Advance ER physician Dr. Nick Peters. “We need to get the patient started on an IV and start cooling his or her core temperature before organ damage occurs.”

Who is at risk?

Anyone can become overheated and experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Children and older adults have a harder time dealing with the heat and tend to produce less sweat and get overheated faster. Also, certain medications may interfere with the body’s cooling system such as: beta blockers, diet pills, diuretics, tranquilizers, antihistamines and some seizure medications. Overheating can also be tied to the heat index, so when the heat index is over 91, it is recommended to stay in cool areas.

“It’s important to keep an eye on the kids during the hot days,” said Dr. Peters. “They often don’t drink enough water on their own and don’t take breaks from playing. They can quickly overheat in a matter of minutes.”

Heat Exhaustion – the milder condition

  • Sweating heavily
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Cool and damp skin, chills, goosebumps
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dark urine
  • Extreme thirst

Heat Stroke – the severe condition * Get medical help immediately *

  • Little or no sweating
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Flushed cheeks
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Fever (over 104° F)
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • No urine output
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness, fainting


Patients suffering from the milder form – heat exhaustion – will likely be treated with hydration and cooling. Get the person to a cool spot out of the sunlight and give about ½ cup (4 oz.) of electrolyte-enhanced water every 15 minutes. Have him lay down with a cool cloth or wrapped ice pack on back of neck and rest. Remove or loosen heavy clothing (e.g. band uniform, football gear) Patient should not return to the heat for the rest of the day.

Patients who have moved into heat stroke will need immediate medical intervention from Advance ERto prevent brain damage, organ damage and even death. An IV will begin re-hydration and measures will be taken to start cooling the patient down safely.

“If we suspect heat stroke, we may run tests to check for organ damage such as an imaging scan, blood test, urine test and muscle function test,” said Dr. Peters. “We have everything ready for instant, emergency response at Advance ER and we can treat you as soon as you walk in.”

Having a freestanding emergency room in your neighborhood that is equipped with the same imaging and laboratory equipment as a hospital ER is an invaluable resource when you or a loved one becomes too overheated this summer. “Don’t wait and see if the person gets better on his own,” said Dr. Peters. “Heat exhaustion can quickly become heat stroke, and that’s a very serious condition that has to be treated immediately at Advance ER.”

We’re open 24/7 with No Wait access to care. We’re ready to address your overheating concerns whenever you need us. At Advance ER, you get the right service at the right time in the right place.

Meet Dr. Nick Peters

Nick Peters, M.D., FACEP, is board-certified in emergency medicine. He received his medical degree from Creighton University School of Medicine, Omaha, NE, and he completed two emergency medicine programs from LAC King/Drew Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA, and University of Arizona Medical Center, Tucson, AZ.

Dr. Peters’ two decades of experience includes his past positions as the Medical Director and Chairman of Emergency Medicine for a major hospital, Regional Medical Director, and Vice President of Medical Operations for a national health care provider. He transitioned from corporate medicine to become a founding Managing Partner and the Chief Medical Officer for Advance ER where his commitment to quality patient service continues.