Getting a cramp in any part of your body is never pleasant, but it's easy to brush it off as only a mild nuisance that's no big deal and carry on with your day. However, doctors say that experiencing cramps in certain areas of your body could mean that something more serious is on the horizon. They warn that if you have cramps in any of these four spots on a warm summer day, you need to get indoors immediately. To see which body parts you should monitor for cramps in the heat, read on.
If you experience cramps in your calves, thighs, arms, or abdomen, it could be an early sign of heat-related illness.
Temperatures in many parts of the U.S. have blown way past previous record highs this summer, which can be dangerous, especially for people who aren't accustomed to heat or the signs of oncoming heat sickness. As Eve Glazier, MD, and Elizabeth Ko, MD, internists at UCLA, recently wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, in the beginning stages, heat illness often presents as heat cramps.
The doctors described the cramps as "painful, involuntary muscle contractions in the calves, thighs, arms or abdomen." These cramps come before the more serious conditions of heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
The doctors advise that if you experience cramps in one of these four areas on a hot day, you should get to a shady, cool spot to avoid your heat illness from progressing. The experts at the University of Iowa Hospitals&Clinics specifically say you should "rest in a well-ventilated or air-conditioned area."
If you have heat cramps, you should go inside, hydrate, and do some gentle stretching.
The medical experts at the University of Iowa explain that "your body loses nutrients when it sweats. If nutrients are lost more quickly than they are replenished, it can lead to cramps."
Glazier and Ko say that if you're experiencing heat cramps, in addition to heading inside, you should sip on a sports drink. For those who can't get their hands on one, the University of Iowa experts say you can make your own to replace lost nutrients by combining one teaspoon of salt and a quart of water.
The professionals at the Mayo Clinic also suggest that anyone with heat cramps should "practice gentle, range-of-motion stretching and gentle massage of the affected muscle group" and avoid any strenuous activity until several hours after the cramps subside.
If your heat cramps don't go away within an hour or so, the Mayo Clinic experts say you should call your doctor.
Ignoring your heat cramps can lead to heat exhaustion and potentially heatstroke.
Glazier and Ko say that after heat cramps comes heat exhaustion, which is characterized by "heavy sweating, a rapid pulse that also might be weak or irregular, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, headache, dizziness, cold or clammy skin, feeling weak and feeling confused." If you experience heat exhaustion, you need to immediately head somewhere cool and loosen your clothing to promote air circulation. Additionally, you should use damp cloths on your skin or immerse your whole body (head, too) in cool water. While you need to drink hydrate, be sure to sip your water or sports drink gradually because drinking too much too quickly could lead to cramps or vomiting.
If heat exhaustion isn't addressed in time, your condition could progress to heatstroke, "which is a life-threatening emergency," warn Glazier and Ko. Symptoms of heatstroke include "hot skin; a rapid, pounding pulse; nausea or dizziness; headache; shallow breathing; confusion or delirium; and a temperature of 103 or higher," they explain.
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Wear loose clothing, drink water, and eat salty snacks if you're going out in the heat.
When the temperature is high, there are a few steps you can take to prevent heat-related illnesses. "Even on what feels like a mild day, missteps having to do with clothing, terrain, hydration, and your level of exertion can turn the sunny weather that drew you outside into a serious health threat," Glazier and Ko caution.
The doctors advise that to avoid heat cramps or worse, you should opt for weather-appropriate activities; wear loose, light clothing; drink water; rest during the height of the heat; eat a salty snack; have a sports drink; wear a hat and sunglasses; and be mindful of any of the aforementioned signs of heat-related illness. Additionally, the University of Iowa encourages you to avoid drinking alcohol, caffeine, and sugary beverages like soda during and after being outside in the heat.