Heat cramps can often be treated at home, although hospitalization may become necessary in severe cases. The first steps in treatment involve stopping all physical activity, moving to a cooler location, and consuming plenty of fluids. Cramped muscles can be gently massaged, although firm pressure may cause increased pain or discomfort. A doctor should be consulted as soon as possible following a bout with heat cramps, and in some cases prescription medications or intravenous fluids may become necessary. Without proper treatment, heat cramps can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition known as heat stroke, so it is important to consult a medical professional for individualized care instructions.
In most cases, heat cramps develop as a result of the combination of hot weather and strenuous physical activity. When a cramp develops, all physical activity should cease, and the affected person should be moved to a cooler location. This helps the body regulate temperature before any serious health complications arise. Water or sports drinks that contain electrolytes should be consumed in order to avoid dehydration.
Gentle massage may help reduce the pain caused by heat cramps. If firm pressure is applied to the affected muscles, the amount of discomfort may increase. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen are often beneficial in treating the pain and inflammation accompanying these muscle cramps. A doctor should be consulted for further evaluation, especially if symptoms such as dizziness or confusion are present.
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of heat cramps and can make it difficult to consume enough fluid to prevent dehydration from occurring. When this is the case, prescription medications designed to prevent nausea may be used. If these drugs are not successful or if dehydration is suspected, intravenous fluids may be needed. This procedure involves the use of a small catheter that is inserted into a vein so that the necessary fluids can be introduced directly into the bloodstream.
Prevention is the easiest and most effective way to treat heat cramps. Before, during, and after exercise, fluids containing electrolytes should be consumed. Salt water or commercially prepared sports drinks are among the best fluid choices during physical activity. This helps to prevent dehydration caused by excessive sweating. It is often helpful to remember that once a feeling of thirst develops, the process of dehydration has already begun. Any signs of muscle cramping should prompt an immediate period of rest and rehydration so that complications do not develop.