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Heat Illness - Heat Exhaustion

Safety Tips for Exercising in Hot Weather


Updated July 28, 2008

Athletes are especially prone to heat illness such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion, especially if they are unfamiliar with the warning signs. Heat illness can be life threatening if not taken seriously. Most serious heat illness in athletes can be prevented by following these basic guidelines and heeding the warning signs and symptoms.

There are three major types of heat illness, each with specific symptoms and treatments.

Heat cramps are a type of heat injury that usually occurs after strenuous exercise or an outdoor activity. Symptoms of heat cramps are severe pain and cramps in the legs and abdomen, faintness or dizziness, weakness, and profuse sweating.

Heat exhaustion happens when one is exposed to heat for a prolonged period of time. The body may become overwhelmed by heat when its mechanism (sweating) for keeping cool breaks down. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, dizziness, weakness, headache, pale and moist skin, weak pulse, and disorientation.

Heat stroke, unlike heat exhaustion, strikes suddenly and with little warning. When the body's cooling system fails, the body's temperature rises quickly. Heat stroke can be life threatening. Signs of heat stroke include very high body temperature, hot, dry skin, lack of sweating, fast pulse, confusion, and possible loss of consciousness.

Preventing Heat Illness

  • Know that once you are thirsty you probably a bit dehydrated.
  • Avoid intense exercise during the hottest time of day; train closer to sunrise or sunset.
  • Wear light, loose wicking clothing so sweat can evaporate. Better yet, invest in some clothes that wick, like Cool-Max.
  • Use a sunscreen to prevent sunburn which can limit the skin's ability to cool itself.
  • Wear a hat that provides shade and allows ventilation.
  • Stay Hydrated and drink plenty of liquids (16 to 20 ounces every hour).
  • If you feel your exercise performance is suffering, stop activity and try to cool off.
  • Do not drink alcohol or beverages with caffeine before exercise because they increase the rate of dehydration.

Remember, it is easier to prevent heat illness than to treat it once symptoms develop.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Extreme Heat

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