Heat Stroke


  • Heat stroke is hyperthermia with neurological dysfunction due to the failing thermoregulatory system
  • rectal temperature exceeds 40.6°C (definition varies between authors — in practice, don’t be too strict especially if prehospital cooling performed)
  • Classical heat stroke is non-exertional e.g. elderly patients during a heat wave
  • Exertional heat stroke results from physical activity e.g. young soldiers exercises in hot conditions

Other forms of heat-related illness:

  • Heat syncope is fainting due to peripheral vasodilatation secondary to high ambient temperature.
  • Heat cramp refers to muscular cramping occurring during exercise in heat, which is related to salt deficiency and is usually benign.
  • Heat exhaustion occurs when an individual develops salt and/or water depletion, dehydration and hypovolaemia from heat stress.  Nausea, vomiting, fatigue and excessive sweating are typical. Core temperature may or may not be raised and tissue damage does not occur.


  • age (extremes of age, athletes)
  • environmental (high ambient temperature, humidity, heat waves, poor ventilation)
  • behavioural (lack of acclimatisation, salt and H2O deprivation)
  • underlying conditions (many)
  • drugs (anticholinergic, neuropsychiatric, sympathomimetic)


  • neurological dysfunction
  • hyperthermia
  • lack of sweating (may be present, especially in exertional heat stroke)
  • complications


  • hyperthermia
  • warm skin (or cool if shocked)
  • sweating often absent, but not always
  • CNS depression/excitation, focal neurology
  • vasodilatory shock decompensates as ongoing dehydration occurs
  • ATN causing renal failure
  • atraumatic rhabdomyolysis
  • electrolyte abnormalities: hyperglycaemia, low phosphate, high CK


  • FBC – leukocytosis, thrombocytopaenia
  • UEC – hyperkalaemia, hypophosphataemia, hyperglycaemia
  • LFT – elevated
  • INR, APTT, fibrinogen
  • CK – high
  • Urinalysis with myoglobin


  • rest in a cool, well-ventilated area
  • unlimited salted foods with cool water if drinking


  • A – obtain definitive airway if obtunded
  • B – ventilate
  • C – risk of shock state from dehydration and decreased myocardial function, fluid boluses 20mL/kg + maintenance, inotropes, ECMO
  • D – glucose management to normoglycaemia
  • E:
    • monitor core and skin temperature
    • eliminate cause of hyperthermia
    • remove clothes
    • active cooling to < 40 C (cool environment, ice water packs, ice water lavage, cold IV fluids, fans, dialysis)
    • anti-pyretics useless
    • may require sedation and paralysis


  • maintain UO >2-3mL/kg/hr
  • crystalloid infusion
  • consider frusemide infusion 1mg/kg/h
  • consider mannitol 0.25-0.5g/kg
  • early RRT
  • maintain normal potassium, calcium and phosphate levels


  • mortality > 60%
  • permanent neurological deficit – 7-15%
  • factors associated with poor prognosis:

(1) high core temperature
(2) high SAPS II score
(3) heat stroke @ home
(4) prolonged INR
(5) vasoactive therapy within 24 hrs
(6) no air conditioning in ICU

References and Links

Journal articles

  • Bouchama A, Dehbi M, Chaves-Carballo E. Cooling and hemodynamic management in heatstroke: practical recommendations. Crit Care. 2007;11(3):R54. PMC2206402.
    Grogan H, Hopkins PM. Heat stroke: implications for critical care and anaesthesia. Br J Anaesth. 2002 May;88(5):700-7. PMID: 12067009
  • Hadad E, Cohen-Sivan Y, Heled Y, Epstein Y. Clinical review: Treatment of heat stroke: should dantrolene be considered? Crit Care. 2005 Feb;9(1):86-91. PMC1065088.
  • Leon LR, Helwig BG. Heat stroke: role of the systemic inflammatory response. J Appl Physiol. 2010 Dec;109(6):1980-8. PMID: 20522730.
  • Walter E, Venn R, Stevenson T. Exertional heat stroke  — the athlete’s nemesis. JICS 2012;13(4) 304-308.

CCC 700 6

Critical Care


Chris is an Intensivist and ECMO specialist at the Alfred ICU in Melbourne. He is also a Clinical Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University. He is a co-founder of the Australia and New Zealand Clinician Educator Network (ANZCEN) and is the Lead for the ANZCEN Clinician Educator Incubator programme. He is on the Board of Directors for the Intensive Care Foundation and is a First Part Examiner for the College of Intensive Care Medicine. He is an internationally recognised Clinician Educator with a passion for helping clinicians learn and for improving the clinical performance of individuals and collectives.

After finishing his medical degree at the University of Auckland, he continued post-graduate training in New Zealand as well as Australia’s Northern Territory, Perth and Melbourne. He has completed fellowship training in both intensive care medicine and emergency medicine, as well as post-graduate training in biochemistry, clinical toxicology, clinical epidemiology, and health professional education.

He is actively involved in in using translational simulation to improve patient care and the design of processes and systems at Alfred Health. He coordinates the Alfred ICU’s education and simulation programmes and runs the unit’s education website, INTENSIVE.  He created the ‘Critically Ill Airway’ course and teaches on numerous courses around the world. He is one of the founders of the FOAM movement (Free Open-Access Medical education) and is co-creator of litfl.com, the RAGE podcast, the Resuscitology course, and the SMACC conference.

His one great achievement is being the father of three amazing children.

On Twitter, he is @precordialthump.

| INTENSIVE | RAGE | Resuscitology | SMACC

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