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Heat Cramps

Facts and definition of heat cramps

  • Heat cramps are painful, brief muscle cramps that occur during or after exercise or work in a hot environment. Muscles may spasm or jerk involuntarily. Cramping may also be delayed and occur a few hours later.
  • Heat cramps are thought to be caused by a deficiency in electrolytes.
  • Heat cramps signs and symptoms are painful muscle spasms usually involving the legs, chest or abdomen.
  • Risk factors for heat cramps include: Age (Infants, children and elderly), alcoholism, working or living in a hot environment, certain medications, and drug abuse.
  • Heat cramps are treated by rehydrating with fluids by mouth or intravenously (IV).
  • Heat cramps can be prevented by avoiding strenuous work or exercise in a hot environment, and staying hydrated.

Are heat cramps related to heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Heat cramps may be the first sign of a more serious heat- related illness such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are more severe forms of heat-related illnesses. While these are not the same medical problems, there are some overlapping symptoms of each disease as the patient's condition worsens.

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are as follows:

  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Fast pulse
  • Feeling faint
  • Muscle cramping
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Signs and symptoms of heat stroke are:
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Altered level of consciousness (not acting right)
  • Passing out
  • Extremely high body temperature
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/30/2016

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Heat Stroke Symptoms and Signs

Heat stroke usually follows two other heat-related problems, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Signs and symptoms of these two conditions are muscle cramps followed by exhaustion and profuse sweating. As these conditions progress the person may have

  • a rapid pulse,
  • rapid breathing,
  • dizziness, and
  • headache.

These signs and symptoms may linger and progress to heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature reaches 104 F or 40 C or 105 F and 40.5 C in children, and the body stops sweating.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Heatstroke »

Heat illness may be viewed as a continuum of illnesses relating to the body's inability to cope with heat.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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