What are the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and how can you prevent it?

This weekend's hot weather could see people suffering from heat stroke [Photo: Getty]

This weekend is set to be a scorcher and while many of us are looking forward to sunning ourselves on the beach or in a beer garden, the hot weather also brings with it warnings about heat stroke.

Temperatures are predicted to rise to 32C in the UK this weekend, and while it’s a relief to finally be able to shed our winter warmers, us Brits tend to get a little bit carried away when the sun gets its hat on.

But all day drinking al fresco or generally spending every waking hour soaking up the rays can put you at risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

What is heat stroke?

“Heat stroke occurs when you have been exposed to a hot temperature for a prolonged period of time,” explains Dr Sonal Shah, NHS GP and lifestyle medicine expert.

But understanding the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke is important because one comes before the other.

Heat exhaustion, with its symptoms of fatigue, headaches, and dizziness, will likely strike first, but if you ignore the signs you could be on a one way ticket to heat stroke-ville and that’s not somewhere you want to be.

“Initially people may experience headaches, dizziness or light headedness,” Dr Shah continues. “They may also notice that their skin is red, inflamed or has small bumps on it. Others also describe muscle cramps, nausea, vomitting and even palpitations.”

Dr Shah says that in some cases people develop a mild temperature, often less than 38 C.

“We call this heat exhaustion,” she says. “If people experience any of these symptoms they should move away from the sun to a shaded area and efforts should be made to cool them down either with fans or even a cool shower. Give them plenty to drink to help rehydrate them.”

Though in most cases symptoms will improve within 30 mins, if people remain exposed to high temperatures they may experience heat stroke, a dangerous condition that needs urgent treatment.

“With heat stroke people may appear agitated, confused, have seizures, or even become unconscious and immediate emergency help should be sought,” Dr Shah warns.

READ MORE: This simple buggy mistake could give your child heat stroke

Al fresco drinking can increase the risk of heat stroke [Photo: Getty]

Who is most at risk of heat stroke?

According to Dr Shah though for most of us sitting in the sun is fun and enjoyable, there are certain people who must take extra care, for example young people and babies, elderly people or those with chronic conditions.

“In the hot weather it may also be worth checking on elderly neighbours or relatives to ensure they are not unwell due to the weather,” she adds.

What can you do to prevent heat stroke?

“Avoid getting heat stroke, by not sitting in the direct sun between 11-3 when the sun is at its hottest, make efforts to stay cool, drinking well and avoiding too many sugary or alcoholic drinks as these have dehydrating effects,” advises Dr Shah.

Perhaps one of the most important heat stroke preventions is drinking plenty of fluids.

On a normal day people need around 1.5 to 2 litres of water day, which is about eight 10 glasses.

But in hot weather you can become dehydrated quicker, so drink more often and aim for at least two litres.

The NHS also has some further advice for people to avoid heat stroke in the hot weather:-

* take cool baths or showers

* wear light-coloured, loose clothing

* sprinkle water over skin or clothes

* avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm

* avoid excess alcohol

* avoid extreme exercise

READ MORE: What you should do in a heatwave

How can heat exhaustion be treated?

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke, you should seek emergency help immediately.

But to cool someone down who might be suffering from heat exhaustion the NHS advises following 4 steps.

  1. Move them to a cool place.

  2. Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.

  3. Get them to drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are OK.

  4. Cool their skin – spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are good too.

Stay with them until they are better.

They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes.