Heat stroke or traditional stroke? Doctors concerned people don’t know the difference

Updated: Jul. 5, 2021 at 2:45 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - With a lot of hot and humid weather already this summer, doctors are growing more concerned about people suffering from heat stroke and not realizing it.

Or worse -- they’re worried people are actually confusing a heat stroke with a traditional stroke and not getting the help they need quickly enough.

BayCare Clinic Doctor Ryan Murphy is not surprised to see people with heat-related illnesses or even heat stroke come into the emergency department during these stretches of hot, humid weather.

But the last thing doctors want to see is people assuming their loved one is having a heat stroke just because it’s hot.

“We do get patients who come in and say, it’s warm out, maybe it’s just a heat stroke, when in fact it isn’t heat stroke. It’s an ischemic stroke or hemorrhagic stroke, which the treatment is entirely different for,” explains Dr. Murphy, an emergency medicine physician with BayCare Clinic.

And not knowing can be costly.

It’s enough of a concern the American Stroke Association created a quick and easy guide to distinguish the two because some symptoms can be similar for both.

How to tell the difference between heat stroke and a stroke.
How to tell the difference between heat stroke and a stroke.(WBAY)

“They teach the acronym FAST or BEFAST, where you’re looking for the facial droop, arm weakness, maybe a change in the speech,” describes Dr. Murphy. “You can have those things with heat stroke, too. It’s not always clear cut, so someone who has a heat stroke, yeah, they might have a headache, might be dizzy and weak. They might not be able to move their arms and legs like they normally would, and it can be confusing to someone who doesn’t know.”

Dr. Murphy says it’s especially concerning for the elder population who may be at higher risk for both kinds of stroke and who may be on medications that mask some symptoms.

“With heat stroke, patients will typically have an elevated temperature, so textbook answer would be anything over 104 degrees,” he says. “A lot of times when temperatures get that hot, the body won’t be sweating anymore. They might be red, warm to the touch. We have a certain patient population that doesn’t recognize (high body temperatures) because of medications they might be on, or maybe patients with underlying conditions like dementia. They just don’t realize that,” explains Dr. Murphy.

And that’s where doctors are concerned.

“Some of these older populations grew up in that time where air conditioning wasn’t a thing. It’s not common, and they don’t use it,” he says. “If you’re going over to check on a family member and you notice it’s really warm in the house, but then you also notice that family member... they don’t seem quite right. They’re acting a lot different. They’re confused. They’re just off; this isn’t right. That would be an indication that they need to come in and be seen and evaluated.”

That’s his most important message -- getting the person to a doctor right away.

“Both of them are emergencies. When people are having heat stroke, that can have permanent consequences. It can kill off brain cells just like a typical stroke would,” says Dr. Murphy. “People who are in hot environments who are not treated, who do suffer from heat stroke, the final outcome could be death, just like a regular stroke, so it’s important to be evaluated whether you think they’re suffering from heat stroke or what we consider a more traditional type of stroke.”

Click here for more information on heat strokes and other heat illnesses.

More information on traditional types of strokes can be found here.

Copyright 2021 WBAY. All rights reserved.