An older couple rides bikes in the park

3 Levels of Heat-Related Illness


While spending time outside is a great way to get fresh air and exercise, spending too much time in sweltering heat without relief can be dangerous. Prolonged exposure to heat can lead to heat-related illnesses like mild heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or severe heat stroke. Each level of illness causes different symptoms. Knowing the warning signs will help you identify the degree of seriousness and how you should respond.

1. Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are painful muscle cramps or spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs. They’re the first sign of heat illness, and your condition can worsen if you don’t cool down. Heat cramps typically occur after intense exercise or sweating in high heat. You may also experience flushed, moist skin.

First Aid

  • Move to a cool place to rest.
  • Loosen your clothing and fan skin.
  • Sip cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar.
  • Stretch your muscles slowly.

2. Heat Exhaustion

More severe than heat cramps, heat exhaustion can include excessive sweating, clammy skin, a fever over 100.4° F, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and a fast, weak pulse. Heat exhaustion can escalate to heat stroke if left untreated.

First Aid

  • Move to a cool place to rest.
  • Loosen your clothing and fan skin to cool down.
  • Sip cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar.
  • If you experience no improvement, get medical help right away.

3. Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include a high body temperature of 103°F or higher, warm and dry skin, confusion or slurred speech, agitation, nausea, vomiting, and a rapid heart rate. Seizures and loss of consciousness are possible.

First Aid

  • Call 911 right away.
  • Move to a cool, shaded area until medical help arrives.
  • Remove excess clothing and fan the skin.
  • Place cold, wet cloths on skin and ice bags on groin and armpit areas.

If symptoms of a heat-related illness last longer than an hour, seek medical attention immediately. Locate your nearest St. Luke’s Health emergency department.

 

Sources:
Heat-Related Illnesses (Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke)
Dehydration and Heat Stroke

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