Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are muscle cramps caused by intense exercise. They often occur in the heat, but can also occur in cooler temperatures. They are sometimes called “exercise-associated muscle cramps.” Symptoms include cramping of the muscles that comes on suddenly and causes severe pain. Cramping may last from minutes to hours. The cramps are thought to be caused by dehydration and loss of minerals in the body due to excessive sweating, but other factors can be involved. They are more common in people who are not used to heavy exercise or who are not used to exercising in hot or humid temperatures.

Heat cramps are treated by moving to a cool place, stretching the muscle, and drinking fluids containing salt. Severe heat cramps may need to be treated using IV (intravenous) fluids.

Home care

  • If cramping continues, drink electrolyte solution, sports drinks, or water with 2 teaspoons of salt per 8 ounces. 

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

  • Stretch and massage the painful muscle.

Preventing heat cramps:

  • Stay hydrated during exercise. Drink plenty of fluids containing electrolytes, such as sports drinks. If you are prone to heat cramps, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of salt to each 8 ounces of sports drink.

  • Work up gradually to exercising in hot or very humid conditions. Limit exercise on very hot days.

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before and during exercise.

Preventing other heat illness:

  • Protect yourself from the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing and a broad-brimmed hat.

  • Drink plenty of fluids before and during activity. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

  • Limit exercise on hot or very humid days. If you have to be active in the heat, take frequent breaks to drink fluids and cool down.

  • Don't exercise when you're feeling ill.

  • Watch for symptoms of heat illness such as extreme tiredness, excess sweating, and dizziness. If any occur, move to a cool place, rest, and drink cool fluids. Lying down with your legs raised slightly can help you recover.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Inability to keep fluids down

  • Vomiting or diarrhea

  • Hot flushed skin

  • Worsening symptoms or new symptoms

Call 911

Call 911 for any of these symptoms of severe heat illness:

  • Confusion

  • Irrational behavior

  • Hallucinations

  • Trouble walking

  • Seizures

  • Passing out

  • Fever of 104°F (40°C) or higher

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© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.