July 25, 2006

Athletes should cclimatize to avoid heat illnesses

By Charnicia Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - As temperatures soar during
these summer months, the National Athletic Trainers'
Association (NATA) advises that athletes, parents, coaches and
medical personnel follow their new recommendations for
preventing and treating dehydration, heat stroke and other
exertional heat illnesses.

"Some of the worst heat problems happen with highly trained
athletes in their teens and twenties," NATA spokesperson, Dr.
Douglas Casa, told Reuters Health.

Athletes may be able to participate in various trainings
and practices despite the summer heat, but they should not
expect to complete a full practice session, with equipment, on
the first day, according to Casa, director of athletic training
at the University of Connecticut.

"You want to ramp up," he said, explaining that the body
needs to go through a one- or two-week acclimatization process
to get used to exercising hard in intense heat.

Athletes who try to participate in intense workouts
immediately, as well as non-athletes who exercise intensively
in the heat, may experience symptoms of dehydration, such as
dry mouth, thirst, excessive fatigue and cramps.

All athletes should be properly hydrated before they start
any exercise session, according to a NATA statement, and all
fluids should be replenished within no more than two hours
after the exercise is completed. If signs of dehydration do
appear, athletes should be moved to a cool environment and
rehydrated, the NATA experts advise.

Strenuous physical activity coupled with environmental heat
stress can also lead to heat stroke, which is characterized by
abnormalities in the central nervous system, or heat
exhaustion, which describes the heart's inability to maintain a
normal output. In both cases, an athlete may experience
headache or dizziness. Those suffering from heat stroke may
also be affected by seizures, confusion or other dysfunctions
of the central nervous system, while athletes with heat
exhaustion may lose coordination, sweat profusely, or
experience stomach or intestinal cramps.

The best treatment for exertional heat stroke is whole-body
cooling, such as immediate immersion in cold water, according
to the NATA statement. Athletes with heat exhaustion should be
cooled in an air-conditioned area, lying down with their legs
propped above their heart level, while undergoing heart rate,
blood pressure and other medical monitoring.

Athletes may also experience heat cramps while performing
intense exercise in the heat. This condition often occurs in
ice hockey players also, however, the NATA experts note. Heat
cramps may be alleviated once athletes are rehydrated and they
consume sports drinks or other fluids to replace the sodium
lost during exercise.

Excessively low sodium levels, which can occur when an
individual is overhydrated, may ultimately result in fluid
accumulating in the brain and/or lungs. Signs and symptoms
include nausea, vomiting and swelling of hands and feet. In
this situation, transportation to a medical facility may be the
best course, so that sodium can be measured and adjusted as

To prevent such problems, NATA recommends that medical
services be provided onsite at various sporting events and that
athletes complete physical examinations, including specific
questions about their history of heat illnesses and fluid
intake, before participating in sports.

NATA also recommends that medical staff be given the
authority to change athletes' practice schedules and their
amount of equipment, based on the day's heat and the athlete's
medical conditions.