Heat Cramps

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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How are heat cramps diagnosed?

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 was working, exercising, etc..

  • 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).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/17/2015

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