Health conditions

Heat stress

  • Heat stress occurs when your body cannot cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature (37 °C).
  • When it is very hot, you may be at increased risk of heat stress.
  • Some people are more at risk of heat stress, including babies and young children, the elderly, and people with some health conditions or on certain medications.
What causes heat stress?

Heat stress occurs when your body cannot cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature.

When it is very hot, you may be at increased risk of heat stress.

What are the signs and symptoms of heat stress?

Symptoms of heat stress:

  • tiredness and lethargy
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • muscle cramps
  • feeling thirsty
  • urinating less often.

Signs of heat stress:

  • pale skin
  • excess sweating or no sweating
  • dark urine.

Heatstroke

In addition to the signs and symptoms of heat stress, the following may occur:

  • extreme thirst
  • high body temperature (more than 40°C)
  • dry, red, hot skin
  • dry swollen tongue
  • slurred speech
  • rapid heart rate
  • nausea and vomiting
  • aggression or strange behaviour
  • confusion or delirium
  • convulsions, seizures or coma.

Heatstroke is an extreme medical emergency. If not treated immediately, it can lead to permanent damage to vital organs, or even death. Dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance.

While waiting for the ambulance to arrive:

  • if possible, move the person to somewhere cool and keep them still
  • loosen their clothing, sprinkle them with cool water, or wrap them in a damp sheet
  • place cool, damp cloths in their armpits, on the back of their neck and on their forehead
  • use a fan to help cool them down, if one is available.

If the person is conscious:

  • try to keep them calm
  • give them small sips of water or fruit juice
  • stay with them until the ambulance arrives.

If the person is unconscious:

  • check their airway is clear
  • monitor their pulse rate.

Stay with them until the ambulance arrives.

How can heat stress be prevented?

Read about how you can plan ahead for the heat and keep cool.

How is heat stress treated?

If you suspect you have heat stress:

  • rest in a cool, well ventilated area
  • remove excess clothing
  • drink plenty of water and fluids
  • apply a wet cloth, cold water or ice packs to the skin (armpits and groin).

If you think you have heat stress refer to the 'where to get help' section at the end of this page.

Where to get help

  • If you have severe symptoms, always dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance in a medical emergency
  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Acknowledgements

Disaster Preparedness Management Unit


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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