Heat Cramps (cont.)

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How are heat cramps diagnosed?

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The diagnosis of heat cramps is usually made after taking the patient's history. It is important to know about the environment where the person affected by heat cramps.

  • How hot was it?
  • How humid was it?
  • Was there adequate air circulation?
  • What activity was being performed and for how long?
  • When did the cramps start? What muscles were involved?
  • Was there associated sweating?
  • Had the affected individual been acclimated to the hot environment?
  • Was the person drinking enough water? One sign of heat cramps or a heat-related illness may be the color of urine. When the body becomes dehydrated, the kidneys conserve water and the result is concentrated, strong smelling, darker, yellow urine. If there is adequate water in the body the urine tends to be clear.

Often the physical examination will be relatively normal. The cramped muscles may be sore to touch and if there hasn't been adequate fluid replacement, the muscle may cramp again when taken through its normal range of motion. The physical exam may find signs of dehydration such as a dry mouth and tongue, lack of sweat in the armpits and groin, and decreased urine output. The vital signs can be a clue (for example, low blood pressure) and rapid heart rate (tachycardia). The affected person's blood pressure may be much lower upon standing compared to lying down (orthostatic hypotension).

What first aid treatments can help heat cramps?

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Most first aid treatment for heat cramps can occur before seeking medical care:

  • stop the activity being performed,
  • get to a cooler place,
  • drink plenty of fluids, and
  • gently stretch the muscles that are cramping.

At the health care professional's office or a hospital, medical care focuses on symptom relief.

It makes it difficult to replace body fluids if the patient has nausea or vomiting, so intravenous fluids may be administered. Anti-nausea medications like promethazine (Phenergan), droperidol (Inapsine), or ondansetron (Zofran) may be used to control those symptoms.

Painful muscles may be treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Though it is a non-prescription medication, it is important to remember that there may side effects or interactions with prescription medications. When you are not certain which medication to consider, consult your health care professional as a helpful information resource.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/21/2013

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Heat Cramps - Causes Question: What do you feel was the cause of heat cramps in you, a friend, or relative?
Heat Cramps - Treatment Question: What type of treatment did you receive when you experienced heat cramps?
Heat Cramps - Diagnosis Question: Describe the events that led to a diagnosis of heat cramps in you or someone you know.
Heat Cramps - Prevention Question: If you are prone to heat cramps, how do you try to prevent an occurrence?

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