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Heat-related Illness

The Heat is ON

Every summer, when the weather gets hot and humid, people suffer, and can even die from, heat-related illnesses. The danger of overdoing activities in the summer is especially high for athletes. Proper care and prevention can keep heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke from affecting their performance.

Heat Cramps

When a body becomes dehydrated and is lacking electrolytes, painful muscle tightening and spasms may occur. These heat cramps can be alleviated with rest, rehydration (drinking fluids) and easing into stretches. Applying ice may also help the involved areas.

Heat Exhaustion

Prolonged overexertion of the body without sufficient replenishment of water and electrolytes causes heat exhaustion. The exhaustion consists of feelings of fatigue, weakness, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting and profuse sweating. 

To alleviate symptoms, move the athlete to a cool area and remove any excess clothing. Cool the person with a cold cloth or a cool bath. If the athlete does not improve rapidly, seek emergency medical attention. The athlete should not compete that day. Monitor the athlete closely when he/she does return to competition.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition. Seek emergency medical attention immediately. Heat stroke results from a complete shutdown of the body’s heat regulation system and leads to increased body temperatures.

Symptoms include warm, red, dry skin, lack of sweating, disorientation and unconsciousness. Take the athlete out of the sun and immediately begin to cool the body by spraying with water, applying cold, wet towels and fanning.


Reducing the risk of heat illnesses can be achieved through prevention. A way to prevent heat-related illnesses is through pre-season conditioning. A gradual conditioning program including strength training, endurance work and skill acquisition should be started two to three weeks before the season begins. This establishes a minimum conditioning level for all athletes.

Be aware of weather conditions. High heat and humidity limit the body’s ability to cool itself. A standard chart can be used to identify dangerous situations for athletes. Practices or competitions may be held at cooler times of the day, or alter the length, intensity and frequency of the practices and breaks.

All athletes’ body weights should be monitored by requiring weigh-in before and after all practice sessions. The weigh-ins should be supervised and checked by the coach. An athlete who loses greater than 3 percent of their total body weight or who fails to regain the previous day’s weight by the next day’s workout are at an increased risk for heat illnesses. 

Fluid replacement is the most important factor in the prevention of heat illnesses.  Unlimited access to water and frequent breaks should be allowed.

By following these preventive measures, health, performance level and effectiveness will be maintained.

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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