Heat Stroke in Athletes

Heat injury can range from mild heat cramps to life-threatening heat stroke. Especially with the growing number of people participating in late summer/early fall sports, proper precautions for heat-related conditions must be taken.

Heat injuries and exhaustion are preventable if you take the right measures and know the warning signs. When exercising, sweating cools our bodies. But if we do not replace the fluids lost while sweating, it’s easy to become dehydrated, especially if other conditions – environment, clothing, sun exposure, etc. – hinder heat release and perspiration.

Mild heat injuries include heat exhaustion, brought on by both water and salt depletion. Water depletion-related heat exhaustion is brought on by heavy sweating and displayed with symptoms of excessive thirst, weakness, headache and sometimes loss of consciousness. Salt depletion-related heat exhaustion can cause nausea and vomiting, with frequent muscle cramps and dizziness. Electrolyte fluid drinks are a highly effective way to prevent this kind of heat exhaustion.

To treat mild heat injuries, move the affected person to a cool, shaded area. Remove any sort of tight clothing and give the athlete fluids if they are conscious. If core temperature is elevated, apply ice towels or move a fan near the athlete, and refer to a physician for further medical attention.

The most severe form of heat injury is heat stroke. When a core temperature reaches higher than 104 degrees, your body cannot cool itself during heat stroke. Organ system failure is a possible result. Effects of heat stroke include cramps, nausea, seizures, confusion or disorientation, and unconsciousness or coma are possible. Many times this severe heat injury occurs with no preceding signs to the heat injury.

Call 911 immediately for emergency services. Use tactics such as ice baths and applying ice packs to decrease core body temperature. Continue cooling methods until an emergency crew arrives.

Prevention for heat-related injury and exhaustion occur in many forms. Coaches should plan pre-season conditioning programs held in similar weather conditions to a typical practice. Athletes should also gradually increase the intensity and duration of training.  And always keep well hydrated before, during and after practice or games – whether you feel thirsty or not.

Reference: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; “Heat Injury and Heat Exhaustion”; June 2009; http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00319

Reference: Mayo Clinic; “Heat Stroke”; September 2, 2011; http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heat-stroke/DS01025/DSECTION=lifestyle-and-home-remedies