What are Heat Cramps?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2019
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Heat cramps refer to involuntary muscle spasms or cramping sensations that can sometimes occur while engaged in strenuous physical activity in hot weather. Excessive sweating usually accompanies onset, which leads to the body becoming dehydrated. More specifically, the salt and minerals lost through sweat is believed to cause heat cramps directly. Aside from being painful, heat cramps can be a sign of impending heat stroke, so they should not be ignored or their significance minimized.

While any set of muscles can be affected, the condition generally targets the muscle groups most often involved in physical labor or exercise. This means that symptoms are most likely to occur in the abdomen, back, arms, and legs. Obviously, common sense and discomfort should encourage the individual to cease the activity at the first sign of muscle pain. On the other hand, it’s not hard to imagine that heat cramps may be mistaken for the rewards offered by a “no pain, no gain” philosophy toward exercising. Regardless, if heat cramps persist even after resting for an hour, then medical attention should be sought.


Certain individuals may be more vulnerable to heat cramps than others. For instance, people on a low sodium diet or who are taking diuretics may be more susceptible. In addition, heat cramps that occur in those with diabetes or a heart condition may pose significant complications. The elderly and very young are often more predisposed to developing heat cramps too. Therefore, people within these higher risk groups should probably refrain from exercising or participating in sports in very hot weather conditions at all.

Self-care is, fortunately, quite simple. The first thing to do is to find some shade or head for a climate-controlled indoor environment, if possible. Secondly, it is critical to re-hydrate the body right away. The best refreshments include fruit juice, an electrolyte sports drink, or even plain water. However, alcoholic beverages should be avoided since they will dehydrate the body even more.

Gentle massage to the affected muscles may help symptoms to subside. Careful stretching may also be beneficial. However, be mindful not to stress the muscles unnecessarily, or the cramps or spasms may continue loner then they would otherwise. As previously mentioned, if heat cramps are not resolved within an hour, a visit to the doctor or emergency room may be in order. This is particularly true if other symptoms occur that may indicate heat stroke or heat exhaustion, such as a rash, headache, paleness, or an apparent inability to produce any sweat at all.



Discuss this Article

Post 3

@Perdido - Bananas are a good source of potassium, and I’m sure that eating them would do some good. I would think that you should also keep some sports drinks in your system, though, since keeping your body hydrated is super important if you want to prevent heat cramps.

My dad works in construction, and he downs sports drinks with electrolytes in them regularly, as well as water. We live in an area with really hot summers, and he knows that he has to protect his body from the effects of extreme heat.

One of his workers refused to drink much because it made him urinate so frequently, and he suffered some major heat cramps. They lasted over thirty minutes, and he even stopped sweating, so my dad rushed him to the hospital. He lived, but he had suffered a heat stroke.

Post 2

Does anyone know if you can prevent heat cramps before they occur just by getting plenty of potassium from your diet? I will be graduating from college this coming summer, and I will be starting a job that requires me to work outdoors in the heat. I want to do everything I can to prevent an onset of cramps.

I know the article mentions treating them with electrolytes, but I want to know if I can keep them from occurring by keeping plenty in my body. I eat bananas often, and I know that they are rich in potassium. Will I need to consume drinks with electrolytes in them as well, or will the potassium in my diet be enough?

Post 1

I know how bad it feels when I get a persistent leg cramp. I imagine getting heat cramps would feel a lot worse, because there are the added discomforts of intense outdoor heat and profuse sweating.

I just recently started taking a diuretic to treat my kidney condition, so I am glad I stumbled across this article. I sometimes exercise outdoors in the summer, but now I know that could be risky.

I will stick to indoor exercise when the temperatures are extreme. I’m kind of glad I have an excuse to avoid exercising in the heat now, because it was so uncomfortable anyway.

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