Heat-related illnesses, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke, occur when your body is unable to cool itself and are especially prevalent during the hot, summer months.
- Heat cramps are painful contractions, commonly felt in the calves, thighs or shoulders, that occur as the body loses salt and water from exercise.
- Heat exhaustion is a precursor to heat stroke and is brought on by a loss of water and electrolytes. The body will begin to sweat excessively and the core body temperature will elevate to more than 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but less than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heatstroke occurs when the core body temperature is elevated to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The body may stop sweating or sweat less and confusion or an altered mental status may occur.
Because heat-related illness can be very serious, and in some instances, lead to death; it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with these illnesses.
- Symptoms of heat cramps are painful contractions.
- Symptoms of heat exhaustion often include nausea, headache, fatigue and/or weakness, irritability, dizziness, confusion, thirst or signs of dehydration like a darkening of the urine.
- Heatstroke often presents with symptoms of heat exhaustion, like a headache, confusion, and weakness, accompanied by an altered mental status.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to call 911 right away to get quick medical attention. To treat heat cramps and heat exhaustion, medical professionals will remove the individual from the heat, give them fluids with electrolytes and cool the body by spraying it with water and using a fan. To treat heat stroke, they will immediately remove the person from heat and start applying active cooling measures such as cold-water immersion, ice packs to the groin, administer IV fluids and check their breathing and circulation.
Fortunately, these are preventable illnesses. During the summer heat, stay out of the sun, keep hydrated, watch for dark urine, avoid constrictive clothing and avoid alcoholic beverages. If you suspect someone to be experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke, the primary response should be to get them cooled-off promptly and call 911. Individuals who have experienced symptoms of heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke should always be evaluated by a medical professional to establish proper treatment needs and whether it is safe to return to normal activity.
Dr. Thomas Thekkekandam is a sports medicine specialist at Cone Health Primary Care & Sports Medicine at MedCenter Kernersville. Dr. Thekkekandam received his Doctor of Medicine from Ross University School of Medicine in 2009. He completed his residency in family medicine at Cone Health and a sports medicine fellowship at the Cone Health Sports Medicine Center. Dr. Thekkekandam is board-certified in sports and family medicine.