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St John Ambulance, York Region >> Safety Tips >> SEASONAL >> Summer Safety >> Heat Stroke


Heat Stroke: Symptoms & First Aid

Did you know heat stroke can result in permanent brain damage or death? 


Heat stroke is life-threatening condition because the body’s temperature can rise far above normal to the point where it stops sweating. The body essentially loses its ability to control temperature, and, if left untreated, it can damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. Heat stroke usually results from prolonged exposure to a hot, humid, and perhaps poorly ventilated environment. The longer the delay in getting treatment, the higher the risk. Those more likely to suffer from heat stroke are the elderly, and people with poor health.

A second form of heat stroke, known as exertional heat stroke, sees the body temperature rise rapidly due to heavy physical exertion in high temperatures, even though sweating continues. This definition will become important when recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke

As the temperature rises, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stroke; not to be confused with a fever.

  • Body temperature rapidly rises to 40°C or higher – the person is hot to the touch

  • The pulse is rapid and full, but gets weaker in later stages

  • Breathing is noisy

  • Skin is flushed, hot and dry in classic heat stroke, and flushed, hot and sweaty in exertional heat stroke

  • Casualty is restless and may complain of headache, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea

  • Vomiting, convulsions, or unconsciousness

Heat stroke can also be easily confused with heat exhaustion. Just remember, in heat stroke, the skin is hot and flushed and may be dry or wet. Heat exhaustion is when someone has lost fluid through sweating and circulation is affected.

First Aid for Heat Stroke

Lowering body temperature is the first and most urgent first aid for heat stroke. The person’s life depends on how quickly this can be done.

  1. Begin emergency scene management (ESM) – do a scene survey. Begin emergency scene management (ESM) – do a scene survey.

  2. Move them to a cool, shaded place.Move them to a cool, shaded place.

  3. Begin cooling the person. Remove outer clothing and immerse them in cold water up to the chin. Watch them closely.

  4. If you can’t immerse the person in water, try the following:

    1. Cover them with wet sheets and fan the sheets to increase cooling

    2. Sponge the casualty with cool water, particularly in the armpits, neck, and groin areas

  5. When their body feels cool to touch, cover them with a dry sheet. Monitor them closely. If their temperature begins to rise again, repeat the cooling process.

    1. If they’re conscious, place them in the shock position (usually on their back).

    2. If they’re unconscious, move them into the recovery position (see below).

  6. Provide the person with water or drinks with electrolytes and carbohydrates.

  7. Continue to provide ongoing care until medical help arrives.

Taking the heat out of the situation

If you’re planning on enjoying the outdoors during warmer weather, there are some steps you can take to avoid heat stroke.

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St. John Ambulance First Aid for Heat Stroke response

St. John Ambulance provides a range of training programs, and they include skills for responding to someone suffering from heat stroke. With nearly 100 locations across Canada, as well as some courses found online, St. John Ambulance can help equip you with the skills to confidently respond to a medical emergency.


When can I take St. John Ambulance first aid training, to learn more about helping someone with heat stroke?
Our first aid training programs are offered year-round. Please register to find the next available training session.


How do I register for St. John Ambulance first aid training?
We offer training across Canada, as well as online (selected courses only). Please register for a training session that’s convenient for you, or call your local branch. Click here for ALL our Branch locations


How can I speak to someone at St. John Ambulance if I have questions or want to find out more?
Please call our branch office. Click here for our Branch location and Contact information.

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