Heat-Related Illness

  • Medical Author:
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

  • 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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Heat cramps

Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat significantly during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles causes painful muscle cramps, often following exercise. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

What are the signs and symptoms of heat cramps?

Heat cramps are muscle pains or muscle spasms (usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs) that may occur in association with strenuous activity. If the affected person has heart problems or are on a low sodium diet, seek medical attention for heat cramps.

What is the treatment for heat cramps?

  • Stop all activity, and sit and rest in a cool place.
  • Drink water or a sports beverage, and eat a salty snack.
  • Passively stretch the affected muscles.
  • Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps have subsided as further exertion can lead to heat exhaustion or rarely, heat stroke.
  • Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in 1 hour.

Heat syncope (fainting)

Heat syncope is a fainting episode that occurs in the heat, either during prolonged standing or exercise, or when rapidly standing from a lying or sitting position. It typically occurs in individuals who are not acclimatized to the heat. Dehydration can also contribute to this condition.

What are the signs and symptoms of heat syncope?

  • dizziness or lightheadedness, and
  • fainting.

What is the treatment for heat syncope?

  • Sit and rest in a cool place. The affected individual may also lie down and elevate the legs above the level of the heart.
  • Drink water or a sports beverage.
  • Seek immediate medical attention for repeated episodes of fainting, or if the individual experiences chest pain, seizures, or confusion.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2015
Next: Heat rash
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