The dangers of heatstroke are becoming more relevant with a major heat wave bearing down. Here is what heatstroke does to the body.

Heatstroke occurs when a person’s body temperature exceeds 104 degrees as a result of overexertion in hot and humid conditions. Anyone can get it, but infants and the elderly are at the highest risk because their bodies might not be able to regulate temperature effectively. Symptoms of heatstroke include but are not limited to dizziness, delirium, low or high blood pressure, nausea, seizures, and rapid breathing.


If left untreated, heatstroke is a deadly condition. It can cause severe health conditions, such as kidney failure, liver failure, and brain damage.

The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that keeps the body’s internal functions in balance, sets the body’s temperature at around 98.6 degrees. But when the body takes in more heat than it releases, the internal temperature rises. The organs begin shutting down at about 104 degrees.

Heatstroke, a severe medical emergency, is not synonymous with heat exhaustion, which can typically be treated without medical intervention. Heat exhaustion often goes hand in hand with dehydration, which can cause dizziness, headache, and weakness. Dehydration, exposure to high temperatures, and humidity, in addition to strenuous physical exercise, are primary causes of heat exhaustion. Treating heat exhaustion typically involves resting in a cool place or a cold bath, drinking cool water or sports drinks, and removing unnecessary clothing.

More than 100 million people in the United States were enveloped in a suffocating heat wave this week, with temperatures expected to remain high over the weekend. In Philadelphia, health officials extended the citywide Heat Health Emergency through Sunday, which activates the city’s emergency programs, such as cooling centers, home visits by special field teams, and enhanced daytime outreach for people experiencing homelessness. Triathlons scheduled for the weekend, such as the Boston Triathalon and the New York City Triathlon, have been postponed or shortened to protect the athletes.

The heat wave plaguing the U.S. has also pummeled Europe and the United Kingdom. Wildfires linked to high temperatures and dry conditions have raged in Spain, Portugal, and Greece and are still smoldering. In London, on Tuesday, the fire brigade had its busiest day since World War II. Over 40 buildings were destroyed, and 16 firefighters were injured in the blazes.

The global problem is expected to persist.


“The very high temperatures have peaked for this week, but they have been a wake-up call about the very real effects of climate change and the serious impacts it will have on our health,” said Dr. Agostinho Sousa, head of extreme events and health protection at the U.K. Health Security Agency.

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