What are heat cramps, exactly? Knowing what heat cramps are can enable you to save you from terrible pain as well as potential muscle tears and hospitalization.
Heat cramps are muscle spasms that occur during exercise in environments that are really hot. Exercising in extreme heat is dangerous for this reason and more, as of course, heat cramps can evolve into something way worse.
In order to prevent or treat them, you need to know what heat cramps are and why they happen. Let’s get into what heat cramps are in more detail so you can avoid or treat them.
How Do They Happen?
Knowing how they happen is an important part of understanding what heat cramps are.
Heat cramps are caused by a simple combination of circumstances: dehydration and overheating. Exercising in heat leads you to sweat more than you would in the cold or in average temperatures, and more sweat means you lose more water.
When you’re body sweats, it not only loses water but the electrolytes that are essential for muscle function.
When you’re body starts to lose the water and minerals required to sustain proper muscle function during hard work, it causes your muscles to cramp.
What Are Heat Cramps and Why Are They Dangerous?
A heat cramp is dangerous for many reasons. Cramping muscles, for starters, can lead to tears in the muscle itself, which would require treatment.
Worse than that though, a heat cramp can lead to a heat stroke. A heat stroke occurs when the body is so dehydrated and overheated that you can no longer maintain homeostasis. This very serious issue can lead to hospitalization.
Basically, a heat cramp is your body’s warning shot telling you to cool off and hydrate before something worse happens. When experiencing a heat cramp, listen to your body and stop what you’re doing.
Symptoms of Heat Cramps
There are many symptoms that come with heat cramps, so let’s cover them so you can know exactly what to look for.
One of the first symptoms you’ll feel is confusion. As anyone who has been dehydrated or has felt too hot knows, you start to become disoriented the worse the heat or dehydration gets.
It’s no different with heat cramps as overheating and dehydration are the main causes of them.
Painful Muscle Spasms
Of course, the muscle spasms might be the worst part of the heat cramp experience and is a tell-tale sign.
These muscle spasms can be incredibly painful. They can be so painful that they can stop you immediately in your tracks. In the worst-case scenario, they can even cause damage to the spasming muscle.
Excessive sweating is both a cause and a symptom of heat cramps. When the actual heat cramp hits you though, the amount you sweat will increase even more because it’s part of your body’s response to the pain.
Another causing factor that is a symptom, overheating is a glaring sign that you are either about to get heat cramps or already have them.
The feeling can be described as what it is, the feeling of being too hot. More specifically, it feels like you’re body has become an oven and is almost radiating heat.
When the overheating gets this bad, it is important to cool off in the shade, use a fan, or dunk ice-cold water over your face or body.
A symptom that doesn’t appear 100 percent of the time but does occur in a lot of cases, nausea is another sign of heat cramps.
The nausea is primarily caused by the dehydration part of heat cramps and is a worrying symptom as it means the issue has reached a point where you are in danger of things getting worse quickly.
A common symptom in most bodily issues, a headache is a common occurrence with heat cramps. This is something that comes along with the confusion symptom.
Accelerated Heart Rate
Lastly, an abnormally fast heart rate can be a sign that your body is struggling to keep you’re temperature regulated and your muscles functioning.
This is a primary reason why athletes always use heart rate monitors. Your heart will tell you a lot about the state you’re body is in and whether you need to stop or not.
How to Prevent Heat Cramps
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to prevent heat cramps so long as you know what heat cramps are, you take care of yourself, and are self-aware of how your body should feel.
Staying hydrated is perhaps the best way to prevent heat cramps. Your body needs water and minerals in order to function properly.
Consuming a sports drink or a water and mineral solution can help keep your body in tip-top condition while you exercise.
Making sure the area you’re in is properly ventilated or that there is a fan around is important to preventing the overheating factor of heat cramps.
A fan or proper ventilation will help your body regulate its temperature and keep you safe from excruciating pain.
Taking breaks while exercising gives your body a chance to recover and cool off. It also gives you the chance to hydrate or seek ventilation if you need it.
Taking a break every once in a while can save you a whole lot of pain.
Keep Your Sweaty Clothes On
This may sound strange, but keeping your sweaty clothes on instead of taking them off can help your body stay cool.
A lot of people respond to heat by removing clothes, but keeping a sweaty shirt on can help you better cope with the heat because the sweat cools the fabric, keeping your skin cool too.
Listen to Your Body
Simply put, ignoring your body will be your downfall, especially when it comes to heat cramps.
If your body is experiencing symptoms, stop immediately and recover.
Heat Cramp Treatment
The best treatment is to rest in a cool place to cool down while hydrating slowly to avoid nausea.
If the cramps do not go away with sufficient hydration and electrolyte consumption, seek medical help immediately, as that means the situation is escalating to a potential heat stroke.
Make sure whatever you’re consuming to rehydrate is consumed slowly, as chugging can cause nausea.
Keep Yourself Safe From Heat Cramps
Knowing what heat cramps are can help avoid and treat this horrible affliction. We hope that this has helped you and has increased your understanding of what heat cramps are and how to treat them.
Keep in mind that we are not doctors, if you wish to learn more from a medical authority, check out the Mayo Clinic’s information on the topic.