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Definition

What are heat cramps?

Heat cramps are painful, brief muscle cramps. Muscles may spasm or jerk involuntarily. Heat cramps can occur during exercise or work in a hot environment or begin a few hours later.

Heat cramps usually involve muscles that are fatigued by heavy work, such as calves, thighs, and shoulders.

How common are heat cramps?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of heat cramps?

The common symptoms of heat cramps are:

  • Painful
  • Involuntary
  • Brief
  • Intermittent
  • Usually self-limited (go away on their own)

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Heat cramps can be quite painful. Consider seeking medical attention if the symptoms do not go away with rest and after restoring fluid and electrolytes.

Call your doctor if these conditions develop:

  • If you are unable to drink sufficient fluids because you have nausea or are vomiting, you may need IV rehydration with normal saline.
  • Heat cramps may accompany heat exhaustion.
  • If you have more severe symptoms of heat illness, including dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, headache, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, or a high temperature (greater than 104 degrees), get immediate medical care.

Causes

What causes heat cramps?

The exact cause of heat cramps is unknown. They are probably related to electrolyte problems. Electrolytes include various essential minerals, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. They are involved in chemical reactions in your muscles. An imbalance can cause problems.

Sweat contains a large amount of sodium, and drinking fluids with inadequate sodium content may result in a serious low-sodium condition called hyponatremia. Some factories have virtually eliminated heat cramps in their workers by supplying salt-enriched fluids.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for heat cramps?

There are many risk factors for heat cramps, such as:

  • Infants and young children because they depend upon others to avoid the heat, dress them appropriately (avoid swaddling an infant since it prevents air movement over the skin to promote sweat evaporation) and provide enough fluid to drink.
  • The elderly because they may have underlying medical conditions, including heart and lung disease, and they can easily become dehydrated.
  • People who live by themselves or who cannot afford air conditioning are at higher risk for heat related illness.
  • A variety of medications can impair the body’s sweat and heat regulation. Examples of drugs include medication prescribed for psychiatric conditions, including antipsychotic medications and tranquilizers. Over-the-counter cold medications and antihistamines also impair the body’s temperature control mechanism.
  • Alcohol consumption
  • You are doing work or activities in a hot environment — usually during the first few days of an activity you’re not used to.
  • You sweat a great deal during exercise and drink large amounts of water or other fluids that lack salt.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

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).

How are heat cramps treated?

The doctor will check you for more severe heat illness and possibly provide you with IV fluid rehydration.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage heat cramps?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with heat cramps:

  • Rest in a cool place and drink a sports drink, which has electrolytes and salt, or drink cool water.
  • Make your own salt solution by mixing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon table salt dissolved in a quart of water.
  • Salt tablets by themselves should not be used. They can cause stomach upset and don’t adequately replace fluid volume lost.
  • If you work in a hot environment, you may experience heat cramps during the first few days on the job. Once you get used to the environment, and make sure you have adequate fluid replacement, you are less likely to have problems.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

 

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment

Sources

Review Date: October 27, 2017 | Last Modified: October 27, 2017

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