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Heat Illnesses: Signs, Symptoms, & What to Do

Quick Notes

Important information with online resources to help you learn more about the prevention of heat illnesses:

Heat Illnesses: Signs, Symptoms, & What to Do

Heat Illness Definition/Description Signs/Symptoms What To Do

Muscle (Heat) Cramps

Occurs during or after intense exercise. Athlete will experience acute, painful, involuntary muscle contractions typically in the arms, legs, or abdomen. 

  • Dehydration
  • Thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place.
  • Drink clear juice or a sports drink.
  • Do not engage in exercise/strenuous activity for a few hours after cramps subside, as this may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Seek medical attention if heat cramps do not subside in one hour.

Heat Syncope

Occurs as result of exposure to high temperatures.  Typically occurs during the first five days of  acclimation to physical activity in the heat.  May also occur after a long period of standing after physical activity.

  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Tunnel Vision
  • Pale or sweaty skin
  • Decreased pulse rate
  • Lie down in a cool place.
  • Drink clear juice or a sports drink.

Heat (Exercise) Exhaustion

The inability to continue exercising that is associated with heavy sweating, dehydration, energy depletion, and sodium loss.
*Frequently occurs in hot, humid conditions

  • Normal or elevated body-core temp (97-104°F)
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness/Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Nausea/Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Persistent muscle cramps
  • Profuse sweating
  • Chills
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Seek medical attention immediately if symptoms are severe, the athlete has existing heart problems or high blood pressure.
  • You may attempt to cool the athlete using: cool, non-alcoholic beverages (as directed by physician), rest, cool shower/bath/sponge bath, moving to an air conditioned environment, and wearing lightweight clothing.

Heat Stroke

Life-threatening unless promptly recognized and treated. Occurs as a result of prolonged heat exposure while engaging in physical activity. Symptoms are a result of the body shutting down when it is no longer able to regulate temperature naturally.

  • Same Symptoms as Heat Exhaustion and:
  • High body-core temp (>104°F)
  • Change in Mood (e.g., apathy, irrational)
  • Hot and wet or dry skin
  • Increased heart rate
  • Confusion
  • If any symptoms are evident-CALL 9-1-1 or seek immediate medical assistance.
  • Move the athlete to a shady area.
  • Cool the athlete rapidly using whatever methods you can: immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower, spray the victim with cool water from the hose, sponge the person with cool water; fan the athlete.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue to cool the athlete until temp drops to 101-102°F.
  • Continue until medical professionals arrive and take over, if medical attention is delayed, call the emergency room for further instructions.



  1. Brinkley, H.M., Beckett, J., Casa, D.J., Kleiner, D.M., & Plummer, P.E., (2002). National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement: Exertional heat illnesses. Journal of Athletic Training, 37 (3), 329-343.
  2. Center for Disease Control (2003). Hot weather health emergencies. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/extremeheat/heatillness.htm. (June 14, 2004).