North Texans know that when it's melting hot outside, there's not much to do but wait it out in the comfort of air conditioning. Seriously, there are times when it's even too hot to swim. But if you have to venture out in the sweltering heat, our handy guide will help you recognize, treat and prevent heat-related illness.

Heat-related illness usually occurs in stages, with symptoms progressing from mild to serious.

The stages of heat-related illness.

Heat cramps.

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat-related illness and involve painful, involuntary muscle spasms typically occurring during strenuous exercise in the heat. Also, see dehydration and rhabdomyolysis.

Symptoms of heat cramps.

  • Heavy sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Muscle cramps

Treatment for heat cramps.

  • Stop exercising and rest for at least several hours after cramping subsides
  • Bring your body temperature down by seeking shade or air conditioning
  • Rehydrate with clear juice or a sports drink containing electrolytes
  • Gently stretch and/or massage the affected, cramped muscles

Seek medical treatment for heat cramps if muscles are still cramping after one hour.

Rhabdomyolysis, or "rhabdo," occurs when muscle tissue begins to die, leaking a protein called myoglobin into the bloodstream. Small amounts of myoglobin can be filtered out by the kidneys, but the protein breaks down into substances that can damage kidney cells and too much will shut them down.

Heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion is a more serious form of heat injury and one that is preventable with proper care and precautions.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion.

  • Symptoms of heat cramps PLUS:
    • Cool, moist skin with goosebumps
    • Weak, rapid pulse
    • Faintness and low blood pressure upon standing
    • Dizziness
    • Nausea
    • Headache

Treatment for heat exhaustion.

  • Stop all activity and rest for at least several hours after cramping subsides
  • Bring your body temperature down by seeking shade or air conditioning
  • Rehydrate with cool water or sports drinks

Seek medical treatment for heat exhaustion if symptoms worsen or are still present after one hour.


Heatstroke is the most serious heat-related injury and requires immediate emergency medical treatment. A core body temperature of 104F or higher is the main sign of heatstroke. Also, see fever and hot car death.

Symptoms of heatstroke.

  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Racing heart
  • The absence of sweating
  • Flushed skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Throbbing headache
  • Changes in speech or behavior, including confusion, agitation, seizures and coma

Treatment for heatstroke (while waiting for emergency services).

  • Move the affected person into the shade or air-conditioning and remove excess clothing
  • Use any means available to cool them off: cool water from a hose, tub, shower or spray bottle. Place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the head, neck, armpits and groin.

Call 911 or go to the nearest ER if someone is exhibiting the symptoms of heatstroke.

How to avoid heat-related illness.

The best medicine is prevention. In the case of heat-related illness, the best way to avoid it is to use common sense and know how hot is too hot for you. Here's how to keep everyone cool this summer:

  • Pay attention to local weather news and heat alerts
  • Go outdoors only when necessary and avoid being outside or doing strenuous activity during the hottest time of the day
  • When you are outside, take frequent shade/rest breaks and stay hydrated
  • ALWAYS carry water with you and drink often even if you aren't thirsty
  • Dress in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing and wear a wide-brimmed hat
  • Don't forget to check on at-risk family members, friends, neighbors and pets

Risk factors for heat-related illness.

Anyone can succumb to the heat, but certain factors increase a person's sensitivity to it. The most common risk factors include:

  • Age: The very young and those over 65 are most susceptible
  • Medications and illegal drugs: Certain drugs can decrease the body's ability to stay hydrated or increase its core temperature
  • Weight: The body's ability to regulate temperature can be affected by excess weight
  • Heat familiarity: Not being used to the heat or going from a cold climate to a warm one can raise the risk of heat-related illness
  • High heat index: The heat index measures how the combined outdoor temperature and humidity level make you feel; a heat index of 91F or higher is your cue to take care

At Medical City Healthcare, we’re dedicated to the care and improvement of human life. So, we hope you’ll Take Care!

For more information, call our Ask a Nurse hotline 24/7 or use Find a Doctor online.

You can also get care for minor injuries or illness at one of the many DFW CareNow® Urgent Care locations, with convenient Web Check-In® so you can wait in the comfort of your home.

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The post How to Stay Cool and Avoid Heat-Related Illness appeared first on LifeSigns in July 2018.