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Heat Illnesses

The sunny, hot days of summer often offer a welcome respite from winter’s gray skies and cold weather. But rising temperatures outside can also wreak havoc on your body’s internal temperature—causing heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Here’s a look at the main types of heat-related illnesses, their warning signs and when it’s time to get medical attention. Knowing what to look for can keep your summer from growing too hot to handle. 


Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are often the first sign of heat-related illness. They cause muscle spasms or pains in your abdomen, legs or arms during strenuous activity. If left untreated, heat cramps may lead to heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

Symptoms of heat cramps include:

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Heavy sweating during exercise
  • Muscle cramps, especially in your legs or abdomen
  • Thirst

Heat cramps don’t always require medical attention. If that’s the case, stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool space until you cool down and your temperature drops. Avoid strenuous activity for several hours to prevent a relapse. Contact your physician if your cramps don’t go away within an hour.


Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when you don’t drink enough fluids while you’re exposed to high temperatures for several days running. You are more likely to be affected by heat exhaustion if you are elderly, have high blood pressure or spend time in a high-temp environment.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Clammy, pale skin
  • Confused thinking and mental disorientation
  • Dark colored urine
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Rapid breathing

If you have heat exhaustion, get out of the heat quickly and find a cool or shady space. Take off any binding clothing and apply cool towels to your skin or take a tepid bath. Increase your fluid intake but avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine.


Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a life-threatening illness that causes your body temperature to rise to dangerously high levels in minutes.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Dizziness and nausea
  • High body temperature of 103 degrees or more
  • Hot, dry skin with no sweat despite the heat
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Unconsciousness

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If you or someone you’re with shows signs of heat stroke—especially seizures or losing consciousness—call 9-1-1 immediately. 


Protect Yourself

Use these tips from the Department of Health and Human Services to keep the heat from ruining your summer plans.

  • Apply an SPF of at least 15 to block ultraviolet (UV) rays from damaging your skin whenever you’re outdoors.
  • Exercise in a space with air conditioning when possible.
  • Plan your outdoor activities for early morning or evening when the temperature is cooler.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
  • Stick to the shade when you’re outdoors during peak sunlight hours.
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts that protect against the sun’s rays.
  • Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.


Call (866) MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.

Get more information about the services available at Catholic Health.

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