Exertional Heat Stroke and Rhabdomyolysis: A Medical Record Review and Patient Perspective on Management and Long-Term Symptoms

Nick Kruijt*, L. R. van den Bersselaar, M. T.E. Hopman, M. M.J. Snoeck, M. van Rijswick, T. G.H. Wiggers, H. Jungbluth, C. C.W.G. Bongers, N. C. Voermans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Exertional heat stroke (EHS) is a medical emergency, occurring when the body generates more heat than it can dissipate, and frequently associated with exertional rhabdomyolysis (ERM). In the present study we aimed to (I) identify clinical features and risk factors, (II) describe current prehospital management, (III) investigate long-term outcomes including the impact on mental health, and review the guidance received during restarting activities. We hope that our approach will improve individual and organizational heat illness preparedness, and improve follow-up care. Methods: We performed a prospective online survey and retrospective medical record review among athletes and military personnel with an episode of EHS/ERM in the Netherlands between 2010 and 2020. We evaluated prehospital management, risk factors, clinical features and long-term outcomes at 6 and 12 months after the event, including mental health symptoms. Furthermore, we investigated what guidance participants received during follow-up, and assessed the patients’ perspective on these outcomes. Results: Sixty participants were included, 42 male (70%) and 18 female (30%), of which 47 presented with EHS (78%) and 13 with ERM (22%). Prehospital management was inconsistent and in the majority of participants not conducted according to available guidelines. Self-reported risk factors included not feeling well-acclimatized to environmental heat (55%) and peer pressure (28%). Self-reported long-term symptoms included muscle symptoms at rest (26%) or during exercise (28%), and neurological sequelae (11%). Validated questionnaires (CIS, HADS and SF-36) were indicative of severe fatigue (30%) or mood/anxiety disorders (11%). Moreover, 90% expressed a lack of follow-up care and that a more frequent and intensive follow-up would have been beneficial for their recovery process. Conclusion: Our findings indicate major inconsistencies in the management of patients with EHS/ERM, emphasizing the compelling need for implementing standardized protocols. Based on the results of long-term outcome measures, we recommend to counsel and evaluate every patient not only immediately after the event, but also in the long-term.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalSports Medicine - Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2023


  • Athletes
  • Exercise
  • Heat-related illnesses
  • Military personnel
  • Physical activity
  • Sequelae
  • Thermoregulation


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