Published in: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2007 - Volume 39 - Issue 3 - p 556-572
Exertional heat illness can affect athletes during high-intensity or long-duration exercise and result in withdrawal from activity or collapse during or soon after activity. These maladies include exercise associated muscle cramping, heat exhaustion, or exertional heatstroke. While certain individuals are more prone to collapse from exhaustion in the heat (i.e., not acclimatized, using certain medications, dehydrated, or recently ill), exertional heatstroke (EHS) can affect seemingly healthy athletes even when the environment is relatively cool. EHS is defined as a rectal temperature greater than 40°C accompanied by symptoms or signs of organ system failure, most frequently central nervous system dysfunction. Early recognition and rapid cooling can reduce both the morbidity and mortality associated with EHS. The clinical changes associated with EHS can be subtle and easy to miss if coaches, medical personnel, and athletes do not maintain a high level of awareness and monitor at-risk athletes closely. Fatigue and exhaustion during exercise occur more rapidly as heat stress increases and are the most common causes of withdrawal from activity in hot conditions. When athletes collapse from exhaustion in hot conditions, the term heat exhaustion is often applied. In some cases, rectal temperature is the only discernable difference between severe heat exhaustion and EHS in on-site evaluations. Heat exhaustion will generally resolve with symptomatic care and oral fluid support. Exercise associated muscle cramping can occur with exhaustive work in any temperature range, but appears to be more prevalent in hot and humid conditions. Muscle cramping usually responds to rest and replacement of fluid and salt (sodium). Prevention strategies are essential to reducing the incidence of EHS, heat exhaustion, and exercise associated muscle cramping.