What are heat cramps?
This is the mildest form of getting overheated and presents as involuntary muscle twitches and cramps often involving the arms, calves, back and abdominal wall.
What is heat exhaustion?
The symptoms are more severe than heat cramps and may include excessive sweating; feeling weak; nausea or vomiting; a fast, weak pulse; cold, clammy skin; and fainting. Symptoms may start suddenly or gradually.
What is a heat stroke?
This is the most severe heat complication. Symptoms include a high body temperature above 103 degrees, a rapid and strong pulse, skin that is hot and red (may be dry or moist) and possible unconsciousness. If not treated immediately, it can lead to death. Often significant electrolyte imbalances accompany heat stroke.
What increases my risk for a heat-related complication?
- Being very young, elderly, weakened by another illness or being pregnant.
- Strenuous exercise in the heat increases one’s risk for heat-related complications by generating more internal heat for the body to dissipate.
- Dehydration increases the risk for electrolyte imbalances and heat-related complications.
- Humid days place you at greater risk for heat illness because when the humidity is high, over 60 percent, it is harder for your sweat to evaporate which makes it harder for your body to naturally cool off and protect itself from the heat.
So what does all of this mean for me, if I am pregnant?
Pregnant women can experience all of the above heat-related complications. In addition, dehydration associated with these heat-related complications can lead to preterm uterine contractions and even labor. Pregnant women naturally experience periods of lower blood pressure and are more prone to fainting, or passing out, and this is exacerbated by becoming overheated. Fainting can lead to falling, which can led to serious complications in pregnancy, such as abruption where the placenta tears away from the uterus. Avoiding becoming overheated in pregnancy is especially important.
Here are a few tips to avoid heat related complications in pregnancy:
- Avoid physical activity in the heat. Look at the hourly weather and pick the coolest, early AM hours to do outdoor exercise if that is part of your pregnancy exercise routine. Consider indoor exercises or swimming during periods of high heat.
- Avoid being outdoors for social activities when it is hot and seek indoor, air conditioned rooms. If you do not have an air conditioner seek lower levels in the home where it is often cooler, placing a box fan in the window and using a spritzer or mister to can help. A list of Missouri cooling centers can be found here.
- When outside wear lightweight and light-colored, loose, breathable clothing.
- When outside seek shady areas or areas with a breeze, fans or misters.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face (this will reduce your risk of melasma as well!).
- Drink water before going out, while out and after returning and make sure your urine is not becoming dark (a possible sign of dehydration). Alternating water with a sports drink such as Gatorade or Powerade may be helpful (sugar free if you have diabetes in pregnancy).
What to do if you start to feel overheated:
- Make sure another adult is aware you are pregnant and feeling overheated
- Get out of the heat and sun
- Stop activity and rest on your left side in a cool room with loose or limited clothing
- Drink cool liquids
- Apply cool cloths to your skin; the forehead, neck and armpits are great places to place cool compresses
Call a doctor or an emergency line if:
- You do not begin to feel better in a short period of time doing the above
- You faint or fall
- You feel confused
- You vomit more than once or are unable to drink liquids
- You have a temperature of 103
- You are experience any concerning uterine contractions or decreased fetal movement
- Someone you are with becomes unresponsive or confused
Being aware of the risks of the summer heat and taking a few precautions can help you not only enjoy the summer but make sure you and your baby are safe.
Rosanna Gray-Swain, MD, is a member of BJC Medical Group and a part of the West End OB-GYN practice. The practice is located at 1110 Highlands Plaza, Suite 280, St. Louis, MO and can be reached at 314-286-2620. Dr. Gray-Swain is accepting new patients, so BOOK today!