What To Do in The Heat

Armen Hareyan's picture

Heat-Induced Illnesses

Below is a fact sheet summarizing three heat-induced illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The information is from the Henry Ford Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine.

Heat Cramps

The least serious of heat-induced illnesses, heat cramps usually occur after rigorous exercising. The person is not dehydrated and the body's temperature remains normal.

CAUSE: Excessive sweating causes an imbalance of important minerals such as sodium and potassium.

SYMPTOMS: Painful muscle spasms, usually in the abdomen or legs; light headedness and weakness.

FIRST AID: The person should seek a cool area and drink commercially available electrolyte fluids.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is similar to heat cramps except that the person is dehydrated. It's the most common heat-induced illness.

CAUSE: Loss of body fluids and salt often after exertion or heavy perspiration. Left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition.

SYMPTOMS: Fatigue, faintness, dizziness, headache, delirium, nausea, rapid pulse rate. The skin may be cold and clammy. The symptoms resemble shock.

FIRST AID: Lay the person down in a cool area with their feet slightly elevated. Give the person cool (not iced) fluids, adding a teaspoon of salt per quart of liquid. Apply tepid (room air temperature) wet towels to the body.

Heat Stroke


This condition is the most serious of heat-related illness. Among those considered at risk are the obese, elderly, infants and athletes.

CAUSE: Prolonged exposure to hot and humid conditions, which interfere with the evaporation of sweat, a cooling mechanism for the body.

SYMPTOMS: Skin is hot and dry, body temperature rises sharply; sweating often stops; pulse is rapid and weak; dizziness, nausea, confusion.

FIRST AID: Call 911 and immediately remove the person's clothing. Wrap the person in wet sheets. Increase cooling by fanning. Elevate legs 8-12 inches.

Prevention Tips

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

  • Avoid exertion in the sun, especially during the day's hottest hours.

  • Acclimate yourself to the heat.

  • Stay in air conditioning or use fans as much as possible.

  • Wear a hat and loose, lightweight clothing.

  • Put cool but not cold wet towels on your body.

  • Take frequent cool or tepid showers or baths.

  • Avoid alcohol because it acts as a diuretic and will cause dehydration.


Henry Ford Health System News