Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke – the difference medical professionals want you to know

Posted at 3:07 PM, Jul 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-18 16:48:44-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - As temperatures continue to soar this summer, medical professionals want neighbors to enjoy the heat safely.

Since Memorial Day, Virginia Beach EMS has received 74 calls for heat-related illnesses. More than 50 of those calls ended with patients being rushed to the hospital.

Graphic courtesy of NWS

Doctors at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital say they have seen a number of patients come in for heat-related illnesses with the recent spike in temperatures. The most common heat-related illness they see is heat exhaustion.

"The symptoms of the more minor health illnesses are headache, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, and a lot of this is due to the fact that they are sweating a lot and they are losing fluids, they are losing electrolytes," explained Dr. Frank Counselman.

Doctors say these symptoms can easily be treated with fluids, rest and time out of the sun. However, if patients don't treat their symptoms quickly, they can escalate into something much more serious.

Related: Your guide to getting out of the heat in Hampton Roads

"Heat stroke is very serious compared to heat stress and exhaustion. In severe cases, death can occur from heat stroke," said Dr. Counselman.

Symptoms of heat stroke can look similar to heat exhaustion but are more intense. For example, people suffering from heat stroke may be sweating, and their pulse is strong and rapid. People suffering from heat stroke may also vomit and lose consciousness.

If these symptoms occur, medical professionals say to call 911 immediately.

"We definitely want to make sure people enjoy the summer but stay safe," said Matt Owens, a captain with Virginia Beach EMS. "I was out in the heat for not very long yesterday and I felt like the heat was beginning to affect me. It can really sneak up on you if you don’t drink plenty of fluids and get a break in the air-conditioning often."

If you are not feeling well and are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing, call 911. Medical professionals say it is always better to be cautious when dealing with heat-related illnesses.