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Heat-Related Problems: What is Heat Cramp?

Individuals who perform physical activity under extreme sunlight or hot weather may suffer from heat cramps, a heat-related illness that involves the involuntary contraction and spasm of the muscles. Heat cramps are sometimes a warning sign of dehydration, and they affect the commonly used muscles during exercise or physical activity including the hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominal and gastrocnemius muscles.

As of the moment, the exact cause of this condition is unknown, but certain factors contribute to the occurrence of heat cramps. These include electrolyte imbalance, and lack of fluid and sodium intake. This imbalance causes electrolyte changes in the body and is further exacerbated when the person is exposed to prolonged hot weather conditions.

Heat Cramps Symptoms

The cramps are accompanied by intermittent, brief, painful and involuntary muscle spasms, which usually subside on their own. Heat cramps may attack during the conduction of activity, but sometimes these symptoms worsen even after physical activity exertion or during the afternoon or late at night.

People Who Are At Risk Of Developing Heat Cramps

Heat cramps commonly affect people who are often exposed to how environments like athletes, runners, and even factory or construction workers. Apart from heat cramps, they may also feel symptoms related to heat exhaustion as part of the wide range of heat-related illnesses. But those who have impaired thermoregulation are more prone to heat cramps, like newborns and elderly. With regards to socio-economic status, people who live in places with extremely hot environment and cannot afford to buy air-conditioning units can also be at risk. Lastly, there are instances when medical conditions and even intake of medicines exacerbate muscle spasms especially during hot weather climates.

First Aid For Heat Cramps:

  • Rest briefly in a shaded and cool place
  • Drink plenty of fluids combined with sodium to replenish the depleted electrolytes during sweating.
  • Sports drink or other beverages that have electrolyte can also help prevent dehydration.
  • Do not move the affected muscle until the pain and spasm are gone.

When To Call Emergency Services:

  • If the symptoms of heat cramps do not go away or become more severe even after a period of rest
  • If the victim starts nauseating and vomiting, making him unable to drink rehydration solutions and water
  • If other symptoms are present during a heat cramp attack, such as dizziness, paleness, lightheadedness, breathing problems and loss of consciousness – these may be signs of other heat-related illnesses, like heat stroke, and severe dehydration.

Related Video on Heat Cramps:


“Heat Cramps Overview.” Web MD. Retrieved online on August 18, 2014 from

“Heat Cramps: First Aid.” Mayo Clinic. Retrieved online on August 18, 2014 from

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