Your body's heat combined with environmental heat results in what's called your core temperature — your body's internal temperature. Your body needs to regulate the heat gain (and, in cold weather, heat loss) from the environment to maintain a core temperature that's normal, approximately 98.6 F (37 C).
Your body's failure to cool itself
In hot weather, your body cools itself mainly by sweating. The evaporation of your sweat regulates your body temperature. However, when you exercise strenuously or otherwise overexert in hot, humid weather, your body is less able to cool itself efficiently.
As a result, your body may develop heat cramps, the mildest form of heat-related illness. Signs and symptoms of heat cramps usually include heavy sweating, fatigue, thirst and muscle cramps. Prompt treatment usually prevents heat cramps from progressing to heat exhaustion.
You usually can treat heat cramps by drinking fluids or sports drinks containing electrolytes (Gatorade, Powerade, others), getting into cooler temperatures, such as an air-conditioned or shaded place, and resting.
Besides hot weather and strenuous activity, other causes of heat exhaustion include:
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- Dehydration, which reduces your body's ability to sweat and maintain a normal temperature
- Alcohol use, which can affect your body's ability to regulate your temperature
- Overdressing, particularly in clothes that don't allow sweat to evaporate easily
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- Mechem CC. Severe nonexertional hyperthermia (classic heat stroke) in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 8, 2014.
- Using the heat index: A guide for employers. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/index.html. Accessed Oct. 2, 2014.
- Dehydration and heat stroke. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/non-traumatic_emergencies/dehydration_and_heat_stroke_85,P00828/. Accessed Oct. 1, 2014.
- Frequently asked questions about extreme heat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/faq.asp. Accessed Oct. 1, 2014.
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