How bad can they be?
Who doesn’t love being outside enjoying summer weather! However, one thing most people don’t think about when it is hot are the affects that can have on your body. Your body’s response to being overheated can range from mild to moderate to severe. How do you know which type you are experiencing? What should you do about it?
Heat cramps are the mildest reaction that your body can have in response to being too hot. They are painful, brief, intermittent muscle cramps that can result in spasming or involuntary jerking of muscles. They are often related to working or exercising in hot environments when your body is not accustomed to it. Heat cramps can occur immediately while you’re still working/exercising or several hours afterwards. The specific cause is unknown but thought to be related to an electrolyte imbalance, specifically a loss of sodium through sweating. Most often, the cramps will go away on their own. What happens if they don’t?
The first step in treating heat cramps is to remove yourself from the hot environment and rest in a cool place (in the shade or inside with air conditioning). The next step is to replace the electrolyte and fluid imbalance that is occurring in your body by drinking a sports drink that will replenish both of these. If you don’t have access to a sports drink, you can make your own by adding ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt to a quart of water. It probably will not taste as good as the sports drink, but it’ll get the job done as far as replacing the electrolytes that your body needs. If after doing both of these your heat cramps do not go away, you should seek medical attention. Definitely call a doctor if you can’t drink fluids due to nausea or vomiting. Also, seek immediate medical attention if you are having nausea/vomiting with any of the following: dizziness, fatigue, headache, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and/or a temperature greater than 104°F.
The best way to prevent getting heat cramps when working or exercising outside in heat when you are unaccustomed to it is to be sure to replace your fluid and electrolytes before you start doing the activity. The key is to remember to drink fluids, especially water, early and often. This is especially important the first few days until your body adjusts to the change. Also, remember to take breaks and go into the shaded or air-conditioned area before you start feeling heat cramps. It is critical to not only preventing heat cramps, but preventing heat exhaustion, which is the next level of heat illness. We will take a closer look at heat exhaustion in the next article.
You can have fun outside during summer…just remember to prepare yourself for the heat! If you have any questions about heat cramps, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) webpage about heat illnesses at https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.html