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​Heat illness: No athlete is immune

​​​​​​​​​​A beautiful, warm and sunny day can quickly become a day without enjoyment if you experience heat illness.

Everyone is susceptible to heat illness whether exercising, spending an afternoon at the beach, working in the garden or visiting a theme park. Heat tolerance depends on your physical fitness, your preparation for the heat through acclimatization and how well hydrated you are.

To recognize the signs of heat illness, understand first that we may each react differently to stress caused by heat. Complications vary and can be prevented.

Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluid than the amount of fluid replaced. Drinking water or sports drinks (not caffeinated or alcoholic beverages) before, during and after exercise can help maintain sufficient body fluids. How much you need to drink will depend on your size, activity level and how hot it is.

Heat exhaustion is caused by a decreased blood volume from dehydration. It is the most common type of heat illness. Symptoms may include dizziness, headache, nausea, profuse sweating, cool or clammy skin, rapid or weak pulse and an elevated body temperature. You should remove yourself from the hot environment and get cooled down as quickly as possible.

Heat cramps are painful muscle cramps caused by dehydration. These can be prevented by hydrating well, prior to an activity. You can relieve heat cramps with gentle stretching, ice and increased fluid intake.

Heat stroke is the least common heat illness and the most serious. When it occurs your body’s cooling system has stopped, and blood volume has become low enough that sweating stops. Your body can go into shock. Symptoms may include disorientation, unconsciousness and no sweating, hot or dry skin and elevated body temperature with rapid or strong pulse. Your body will need rapid cooling and you should go to a hospital.

Don’t let a warm day be spoiled by heat illness. Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise. And take frequent breaks.

Share comments or questions on this information. E-mail sports.medicine@marshfieldclinic.org​.

 

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