Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke: What you need to know

Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are a spectrum of heat-related illnesses associated with body overheating. They are typically caused by exposure to hot temperatures and strenuous physical activities. Heat cramps are the mildest form, while heat stroke is a life-threatening complication in this group of illnesses. Heat stroke can cause damage to vital body organs, including the brain. It can lead to death, if left unmanaged.

In Nigeria, the hottest period of the year is between December and April. Hence, heat-related illness will be commoner in this period.

Heat has been a common complaint in this period

How do heat-related illnesses happen?

The human body maintains a normal core temperature range of 35.6 – 37.8⁰C. This temperature range is maintained by the proper balance between heat loss to the environment during hot weather and heat gain during cold weather. The body primarily losses heat by sweating. Strenuous physical activities and exposure to hot temperatures cause a lot of sweating. When these two happen together, the body cannot cool itself efficiently. This manifests as a heat-related illness.

Causes of heat-related illnesses

As we have established,primary causes are:

  • Exposure to hot temperatures
  • Strenuous physical activities

Other causes include:

  • Dehydration
  • Alcohol use
  • Overdressing

Signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses

Heat cramps being a mild form, can present as

  • Heavy sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Muscle cramps

In heat exhaustion, there are symptoms of heat cramps with the following:

  • Cool, moist skin with goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing

Interventions for heat-related illnesses

Prompt intervention usually prevents the progression of the illnesses in the spectrum. If you suspect heat cramps and heat exhaustion,

  • Drink fluids
  • Move to a cooler place, such as an air-conditioned room, or a shaded area
  • Rest

Tackling heat stroke

  • Call for help
  • Attempt to cool the body either by:
    • Placing the victim in a tub of cool water,
    • Covering the victim with cool damp sheets,
    • Spraying water with a hose,
    • Placing ice packs or cool wet towels on the victim’s neck, armpits and groin, or
    • Offering cool water to the person if he or she is still able to drink.
  • If still unresponsive, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the person loses consciousness  and shows no signs of circulation (breathing, coughing, or movement)
  • Take the victim to the nearest hospital.

Prevention of heat-related illnesses

In periods of high atmospheric temperature, as it is in Nigeria now, remember to take the following precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses.

  • Wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothes
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Do not stay for long in a parked car
  • Avoid strenuous activities as much as you can
Drink lots of water

A word from HealthFacts to you

Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are common illnesses at this time of the year. Remember to take things easy, drink lots of water, and frequently rest in cool spots.

Till next time, stay healthy and stay informed!

Suggested Reading: 2 Things You Must Do During This Hot Weather


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