Health conditions

Heat stress

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

What is 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.

How do you get heat stress?

When the temperature of our surrounding environment is around 32 °C our bodies are able to maintain a stable temperature. Repeated hot days can threaten our body’s ability to cope and function normally.

People who are at increased risk of heat stress

Some people are more likely to experience heat stress, including:

  • babies and young children
  • older children and teenagers
  • people with existing physical and mental health conditions or using certain medications
  • the elderly
  • people who exercise
  • people who work outside
  • overseas travellers who are not used to the heat.

Signs and symptoms

Signs of heat stress include:

  • muscle cramps
  • pale skin
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • increased heart rate
  • fainting
  • excessive sweating or no sweating with high temperature and hot, dry skin
  • urinating less often
  • confusion.

Various degrees of heat stress

The effects of heat stress can range from mild symptoms such as a rash or cramps to very serious conditions such as heat stroke.

These effects can build up over a number of days as you become exhausted from the heat. This can worsen heart disease and other chronic health conditions you may have.

Intense physical activity in hot weather can cause even healthy young people to develop a condition called exertional hyperpyrexia. Early signs are a lack of coordination and slurring of speech, but the condition can result in collapse and even death within 1 to 2 days.

If you have a health condition or take medication

Your risk of heat stress during hot weather can be increased by:

  • some health conditions, for example heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes
  • certain medications taken for these conditions (including medications for insomnia, depression, anxiety, or poor circulation)

Talk to your doctor so you are aware of your risks and how you should look after yourself.

If you take prescription medication, you must continue to take it during hot weather. Some medications can make you more likely to experience sunburn and heat stress, so watch for signs that you are becoming affected by the heat.

Speak to your doctor or a pharmacist if you need advice on a particular medication.

How to prevent and treat heat stress

Find out how to reduce your risk of heat stress and treatment options.

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

Remember

  • 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.

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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