Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke- Don’t Get Confused

Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are related to one another, but both are not the same. Heat exhaustion is the initial deadly phase, leaving it untreated will lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body temperature increases more than 104℉(40℃).

Both severe compilations begin with general muscle weakness, sudden excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness. In the United States, more than 600 people die due to above-average temperatures or unusual humid weather, says the Center For Disease Control and Prevention.

In this article, you will learn the basic differences between heat exhaustion and heatstroke. So without wasting any time, let’s start.

Is Heat Stroke Worse Than Heat Exhaustion?

Both heatstroke and heat exhaustion come under heat-related illness, but heat exhaustion is less severe than heatstroke.  Anyone with any of these complications should immediately seek rest and rehydrate. 

Heatstroke is the complication of heat exhaustion; leaving heat exhaustion untreated can lead to heatstroke. By this statement, it must be clear which one is worse.

What Is Heat Stroke And Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a condition that occurs due to body overheating. It involves general muscle weakness, sudden excessive sweating, nausea and vomiting, and possible fainting. Heat cramps are the mildest among heat-related illnesses, keeping heat exhaustion in the middle and heatstroke the most severe one. 

What makes heat exhaustion a matter of concern is, it can lead to life-threatening conditions; heatstroke if not treated. The possible causes of heat stroke include exposure to high temperatures, particularly at the time of high humidity and strenuous physical activity.

Heatstroke is the most severe heat-related illness when the body temperature increases more than 104℉(40℃). It is a life-threatening medical emergency, also known as sunstroke, if not treated, will start damaging your multiple organs and systems, such as:-

  • Brain and nervous system
  • Lungs
  • Circulatory system
  • Liver
  • Muscles
  • Kidneys
  • Digestive Tract

Also Read: Heart Attack Causes- The Medical Emergency

How Can You Tell The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion And Heat Stroke?

The difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be easily explained with some parameters, such as symptoms, causes, and severity. As both are heat-related illnesses, their treatment and diagnosis are similar. One by one, we will cover topics that can distinguish between the two.

What Is A Typical Difference Between The Symptoms Of Heat Stroke And Heat Exhaustion?

Heat illness symptoms can occur quickly or take several days, often starting with significant distress and muscle cramping.

Heat exhaustion causes the following symptoms:-

  • Muscle cramping
  • A rapid, weak pulse
  • Cool, moist skin with goosebumps when in the heat
  • Heavy sweating
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Elevated blood pressure upon standing

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Heatstroke usually begins with symptoms of heat exhaustion but within no time, leads to worse conditions, such as:-

  • A temperature of 104ºF or higher
  • Hot, dry skin
  • A racing heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

Spending too much time in a closed car when the outdoor temperature is 80ºF can put children and pets at risk of heatstroke as the inside temperature reaches 109ºF, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

What Causes Heat Stroke And Heat Exhaustion?

The fundamental cause of both heat stroke and heat exhaustion is the same; overheating of the body, but what makes the condition worse is different. 

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body becomes unable to release heat from the body. This can be due to these possible reasons:-

  • Overexercise 
  • Work strenuously in hot weather
  • Wearing heavier, tight clothing
  • Dehydration
  • Consumption of alcohol

Heatstroke is caused when you leave heat exhaustion untreated and, within no time, can cause life-threatening conditions. Therefore, it is recommended to treat the early symptoms of heat exhaustion before becoming life-threatening.

Differences Based On Severity

Comparing both heatstroke and heat exhaustion, heatstroke is more severe. So it is because heatstroke is the condition you might have to face if you leave heat exhaustion untreated.

Heat exhaustion is a condition that causes general weakness, increased heavy sweating, increased pulse rate, nausea, or fainting. It mainly occurs among people who are mostly exposed to the sun. Whereas heatstroke is the heat exhaustion complication, it will lead to heatstroke if you leave heat exhaustion untreated.

Heatstroke is a condition in which the body’s temperature gets elevated and reaches above 103℉ (39.4℃). The body starts to lose consciousness at this temperature, rapid heart rate, making the person look hot, red, dry, or moist skin.

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Julain Carter is mental health expert for Goodrxmedicine.com. He is an experienced clinical mental health counsellor with recognition in cognitive behavioural therapy. Julian’s sharp behavioural observations reflect in both his personal and professional life.