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Heat Cramps - Causes and Symptoms

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Heat cramps occur during exercise or work due to a heated environment. Read the article to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of heat cramps.

Written by

Dr. Saberitha

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Vishal Patidar

Published At May 6, 2022
Reviewed AtSeptember 23, 2022

What Are Heat Cramps?

Heat cramps are painful and are more common during the nighttime. The individuals performing vigorous physical activities are affected by involuntary muscle spasms. This condition is known as heat cramps. Fluid loss or dehydration contributes to heat cramps. Normal blood contains fluid as a component to transport the nutrients. Heat cramps occur in the muscle group that undergoes strain during exercise. The most commonly affected muscles include the calf muscles, biceps, abdomen, and back muscles.

What Are the Causes of Heat Cramps?

Various causes initiate muscle spasms and eventually lead to heat cramps. These include;

  • The workers involved in construction and roofing tops are more likely to be affected by heat cramps. This is because they tend to use their muscles to lift heavy weights.

  • The individuals involved in physical activity and not drinking enough fluid becomes dehydrated which results in heat cramps.

  • Electrolytes are the minerals responsible for muscle contraction. It maintains the pH level in the body. The deficiency of these minerals causes heat cramps.

  • Sodium plays an important role in maintaining muscle function. Inadequate intake of fluids containing sodium results in a condition known as hyponatremia, which affects the muscle and causes heat cramps.

  • Calcium helps in muscle movement and maintains the contraction and dilatation of the blood vessels. The deficiency of calcium causes heat stroke.

  • Potassium is responsible for muscle contraction. Depletion of the potassium causes muscle spasms and eventually ends in heat cramps.

  • Wearing clothes with many layers prevents sweating from evaporating during vigorous exercise. It results in overheating of the body and causes heat cramps.

  • Hot weather increases the body temperature and induces more sweating. If the individual fails to rehydrate the body with electrolytes and fluids, it causes heat cramps.

  • Poor ventilation in the room causes heat cramps. Young children and adults above 60 years of age are more prone to heat cramps. This is because their bodies are less efficient at regulating the temperature.

  • Heat cramps occur in patients who have severe vomiting or diarrhea. It results in dehydration.

  • Individuals taking antipsychotic medication impairs the heat regulation and alters the sweat mechanism and are prone to heat cramps.

What Are the Symptoms of Heat Cramps?

  • The individual with heat cramps feels debilitating due to the prolonged pain.

  • There is an involuntary jerking of the hands and legs due to heat cramps.

  • The muscle pain becomes severe and is difficult to move.

  • There is excessive sweating, and the individual feels thirsty.

  • The affected skin appears moist and red due to heat cramps.

  • The body temperature increases to 102.5 degrees and causes fever.

  • The muscle spasm due to heat cramps appears brief or intermittent.

  • The individual can usually feel the pressure in the muscle after hours of completing the physical activity or heavy work.

  • The individual affected by heat cramps has a dry mouth and tongue due to dehydration.

  • There is a decreased urine output because of the lack of fluid intake.

  • The blood pressure decreases, and the person becomes exhausted.

  • There is an increased heart rate with shortness of breath in severe heat cramps.

  • Muscle weakness and nervous disorders can occur in individuals who consume excess alcohol. This can indirectly cause heat cramps.

  • The urine becomes dark yellow colored with a strong smell due to an increase in body temperature. It is because the kidneys conserve water.

How to Relieve Heat Cramps?

Heat cramps usually relieve on their own after some time. But the severity of the muscle spasm can be reduced by taking immediate action. The following are a few methods that help to relieve heat cramps:

  • The individual must stop performing physical activities like exercise or football, or heavy lifting until recovery from heat cramps is achieved.

  • Stay in a cool place with proper air circulation. People with excess sweating can use their air conditioner to make their bodies cool.

  • The individual should drink at least two liters or eight glasses of water daily. However, the person involved in sports and exercise requires more water intake.

  • The person affected by heat cramps should take plenty of rehydration fluids that contain sodium and potassium.

  • Calcium supplements can improve the condition and help in muscle movement.

  • Patients affected by vomiting and diarrhea are treated with intravenous saline. It helps in rehydration and prevents heat exhaustion.

  • The oral rehydration solution can be made at home by dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in a quart of water.

  • Gentle stretching of the muscle affected by heat cramps makes the individual feel better.

  • Try to avoid direct sunlight and stay in a shaded area to prevent excess sweating.

  • Avoid soft drinks and drink clear fruit juices because it helps to regulate the body temperature and enhances muscle strength.

  • The individual must wear loose clothes and maintain a cool temperature to prevent heat cramps.

What Medications Are Used to Treat Heat Cramps?

Although certain medications are recommended in the treatment of heat cramps, it should be taken with the advice of the physician, especially if the cramps persist for a longer time.

  • Medications like Promethazine and Ondansetron are used to treat vomiting.

  • The pain in the muscles can be relieved by drugs like Ibuprofen and Naproxen. It reduces inflammation and prevents heat cramps. But these medications should not be used for more than three days.

  • Apply topical creams that contain Diclofenac to give temporary relief from heat cramps. Diclofenac is also available in spray form. The sprays are more effective for relieving heat cramps than the gels.

  • Apart from Diclofenac, the commonly used cream to relieve muscle aches is Bengay (Menthol and Methyl Salicylate).


There is a high chance for the heat cramps to recur if the individual ignores the symptoms. The individual must carefully identify the reason for the heat cramps and try to resolve them. Do not eat salt tablets to restore the sodium because it upsets the stomach. This heat-related illness is not a life-threatening disease but may cause alarming pain. The individual should note the timing from when the cramp has started and stopped and consult the medical professional if the pain lasts for more than a week.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Causes Heat Cramps and How Can It Be Prevented?

Dehydration and electrolyte loss cause heat cramps. Aggressive exercising and working in heat and under direct sunlight can lead to heat cramps. In order to prevent heat cramps, proper fluid intake should be ensured. Proper rest, hydration, and stretching can relieve heat cramps.
The above-mentioned prevention measures can be considered as the first aid for treating heat cramps.


What Are the Ways to Treat Heat Cramps?

The following steps can help in relieving heat cramps:
- Proper fluid intake should be ensured.
- Stretching can relieve heat cramps.
- Consuming drinks with electrolytes and cooling the body can help.
- Avoid resuming strenuous activity for several hours following heat cramps.
- Find a cool place and rest.


What Foods Help in Relieving Heat Cramps?

Banana and sweet potato intake helps in managing the electrolyte imbalance. Avocados are a rich source of potassium. Melons and watermelons help in treating dehydration. In addition to consuming these foods, hydrating oneself with lots of water or fluids is beneficial.


Who Is Susceptible to Heat Cramps?

Infants and children younger than 4 years of age and elderly people aged above 65 years of age are at increased risk for heat cramps. Individuals who work or exercise in hot temperatures. For example, athletes, tennis players, mountain climbers, farmers, and firefighters.


What Are the Symptoms of Heat Cramps?

Following are a few common symptoms of heat cramps.
- Increased sweating.
- Dizziness.
- Fatigue. 
- Low blood pressure.
- Muscle cramps.
These symptoms help in diagnosing heat cramps affected individuals.


How Long Can Heat Cramps Last?

Most episodes of heat cramps last for around thirty minutes to an hour. In a few individuals, it can even last for a longer period of time. Heat cramps can range from slight tic to agonizing pain and can recur several times before resolving. If the heat cramps last longer than 30 minutes seeking medical help is advised.


What Is Best for Treating Cramps; Heat or Ice?

Both heat and ice can be used for treating cramps. Ice application is done during the acute phase of inflammation; it is then followed by heat application to relieve muscle spasms. The heat application is ideal for chronic cases. The choice of heat or ice application for cramps also depends on the underlying cause of the condition.


Can Cramps Induce Stroke?

Usually, heat cramps can be relieved by rehydration and rest, but in extreme cases, heat cramps can lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke is an emergency condition and requires immediate medical attention.
Dr. Vishal Patidar
Dr. Vishal Patidar

General Medicine


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