Athletes unaware of the dangers of heat stroke

By Nikki Duggan
September 27, 2007

Anywhere from 370 to 400 Americans die each year from hyperthermia. This is a fact that is guaranteed not to be known by many students at Cabrini College. This is a possible result of the effect of heat stroke. Even though students probably don’t realize it, they should know that heat stroke can be fatal.

“It is extremely dangerous,” said Brett VanFleet, a Cabrini athletic trainer. VanFleet feels athletes need to be more aware of the dangers of participating in athletics out in extreme heat. “They are completely oblivious for the most part.”

VanFleet said, “I think it’s something athletes don’t want to think about because in their minds it shows weakness to their coaches. It stems from the old adage in ‘Remember the Titans,’ when the players ask for water and the coach responds and says that water is for the weak.”

Athletes do need to realize the dangers and be more aware of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

A normal body temperature is about 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Once body temperature reaches 104 degrees, it can be life threatening. As it moves up to 106 degrees, brain cells begin to die. Then, if body temperature reaches up to 113 degrees, death is almost certain. These high body temperatures are what a person can reach up to if their body goes through heat stroke.

When playing a sport in extreme heat circumstances, athletes need to pay extra attention to their bodies if they start to develop the warning symptoms. Common symptoms consist of confusion, muscle cramps, headaches, nausea or dizziness.

“There have been times where I have gotten so tired that I was going to pass out but I never thought about heat stroke,” said Chrissy Regan, a junior biology and pre-pharmacy major and also a member of the women’s lacrosse and soccer teams.

Many athletes, like Regan, have probably had the symptoms and didn’t realize the danger that they were in or what their body was trying to tell them.

As symptoms start to occur, what is actually happening to the body is dehydration.

The body tries to sweat out the heat, which leads to loss of salt and then damages cells and organs. Blood pressure then drops because of the loss of liquid and heart rate increases. Blood vessels that are near the skin dilate attempting to shed heat, which deprives internal organs of blood and oxygen. Internal organs begin to fail and the collapse of organs then can cause death.

Once the beginning warning signs occur, athletes should take immediate action and seek the attention of their athletic trainer or one of their coaches.

Pre-season is always the worst for fall athletes because they are coming back to school in the middle and end of August, when the heat and humidity are the worst during practices and tryouts. This is when athletes are most prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. That is why it is so important to keep in shape and properly hydrated during this time.

Christina Romano, a junior elementary education major and member of the women’s lacrosse and soccer team, said, “I would make sure to drink plenty of water and wear cool clothing that doesn’t attract the sun,” in order to be more careful when taking part in athletics out in extreme heat.

According to the LA Times, the best treatment of heat stroke is rehydration and cooling.

To cool the body down, the victim should be immersed in cold water. Isotonic beverages such as Gatorade should be drank. Gatorade is suggested as the better drink to replenish the body, instead of water.

W. Larry Kenney, a Penn State professor of physiology and kinesiology, said, “Sports drinks have extra additives that are not found in water. Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are the most important additives and carbohydrates are a close second.”

To prevent heat stroke, athletes just need to pay extra attention to their bodies when it’s trying to tell them something.

“Obviously they’re going to get tired during a game or practice,” VanFleet said. “But if they start feeling extreme fatigue, nausea or dizziness; that’s when they need to tell their coach or athletic trainer.”

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Nikki Duggan

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