Heat Cramps: Definition, Causes, Facts, Who Is At Risk, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, First Aid, Prevention

Heat Cramps– This is an extremely common medical condition which is brought on after doing strenuous activities in a heated atmosphere, usually out in the sun in the summers when the temperatures are invariably high. This result in extremely painful cramping feeling observed usually in the calves, arms, or back as a result of these muscles going into spasms due to the heat.

Heat Cramps

How Do We Define Heat Cramps?

Heat Cramps as stated are cramping sensations which are usually felt in the calves, abdominal areas, back or arms when an individual is involved in strenuous activity in a heated environment, usually in the summers out in the sun when the temperatures are extremely high. In Heat Cramps, the muscles go into involuntary spasms. Heat Cramps are more often than not associated with dehydration. Apart from the muscles in the above mentioned areas, the quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, biceps, and the triceps muscles also get affected with Heat Cramps. An individual can also have Heat Cramps after completing an activity. As an example, construction workers usually experience Heat Cramps after they have completed their task.

What Are The Causes of Heat Cramps?

It was initially felt that Heat Cramps were caused as a result of electrolyte imbalance due to extreme heat and dehydration, as lot of fluids are lost due to sweating when an individual works in extreme heat, alternate explanations have also come up as of late stating as to why muscles start to cramp when exposed to extreme heat. One theory suggests that when muscles are subjected to overwork in conditions that are extremely hot and humid, they tend to tire easily and lose their ability to contract and relax in a normal fashion. This is medically termed as Altered Neuromuscular Control.

Heat Cramps Fact Sheet

  • Heat Cramps as stated are involuntary spasms of various muscles of the body when an individual is involved in rigorous activity in a hot and humid condition.
  • The muscles usually affected by Heat Cramps are that of the back, legs, arms, and the abdominal area.
  • People who are at risk for Heat Cramps are construction workers, roofers, and people who have physically demanding jobs irrespective of the weather.
  • Symptoms of Heat Cramps are intense sweating with involuntary spasms of muscles of the body.
  • Heat Cramps are usually diagnosed by a detailed history and physical examination to identify the muscles that go into spasms
  • The best treatment for Heat Cramps are resting in a cool environment, adequate fluid intake to keep the body hydrated, and frequent stretching of the muscles which frequently cramp

What Are The Risk Factors For Heat Cramps?

Some of the People who are at Increased Risk for Heat Cramps are:

  • Infants and Children: Since they require help of their parents to avoid exposure to heat and provide them with adequate fluids
  • Elderly Population: As they usually have other medical conditions to cope up and can get dehydrated easily
  • People who live in places which does not have proper cooling mechanism like air conditioners etc.
  • Certain antipsychotics can also cause an imbalance in body’s normal mechanism of controlling heat
  • Alcohol abusers are also at risk for Heat Cramps

What Are The Symptoms of Heat Cramps?

Some of the symptoms of Heat Cramps are profuse sweating, pain and cramping of muscles, especially during an activity or immediately after it. For example, football players may get leg cramps, while construction workers may get cramping in their arms and back.

How is Heat Cramps Diagnosed?

To diagnose Heat Cramps, the treating physician will take a history and may ask the following questions during history taking

  • Whether the climatic conditions were hot and humid
  • Whether there was appropriate air circulation
  • Which activity brought on the cramping sensation
  • Which part of the body went into spasms
  • Was the affected individual appropriately acclimated to the working conditions
  • Whether the affected individual was appropriately hydrated during work

A physical examination may be conducted to identify the muscles involved which may be tender to palpation. The physician may perform a normal range of motion of the affected body part to see if the muscles start cramping up again or not. The physician may also look for symptoms of dehydration like dry mouth etc. There may also be observation of low blood pressure and elevated heart rate. There may also be presence of orthostatic hypotension.

What Are The Treatments for Heat Cramps?

Some of the Steps Which an Individual can take When they are Affected with Heat Cramps are:

  • Immediately stop the activity
  • Rest in a cooler area
  • Intake of fluids
  • Gentle stretching of the muscles

In case, if the Heat Cramps do not stop then consultation with a physician is important. In a hospital setting, intravenous fluids may be administered to replenish fluids lost in the heat. Anti-nausea and antiemetics may be given like Phenergan or Compazine.

The painful muscles may be treated with over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen.

First Aid For Heat Cramps

The Best and Easy Ways to Handle Heat Cramps are:

  • Rest at a cool place for some time
  • Drink fluids which are rich in electrolytes
  • Gentle stretching motion of the cramping muscles usually alleviates the cramping
  • Not to resume activity until the cramping completely goes away
  • Consulting a physician in case of no relief from symptoms even after a couple of hours

What Are Some Measures That Can Be Taken To Prevent Heat Cramps?

  • One should wear loose fitting clothes, especially when out in the heat. Light colored clothing facilitates evaporation of sweat.
  • One should apply proper sunscreens for protection of exposed body parts from direct rays of sun
  • One should prefer to stay at cooler places and avoid going out, especially in the afternoons. One should stay preferably at an air conditioned place
  • One should drink plenty of fluids, especially rich in electrolytes when performing activities out in the sun
  • Stay away from alcohol
  • One should get acclimatized appropriately before starting activities in the heat
  • In case, strenuous activity in the heat cannot be avoided, then frequent breaks and frequent intake of fluids in small proportions are of paramount importance to avoid Heat Cramps.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 13, 2018

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