Heat stroke leading cause of death in athletes

All too often, it seems, the news media carry stories about athletes who suffer serious injury or death as the result of participating in their chosen sport. Tragically, many such stories involve student athletes.

Among the three leading causes of athletics-related death is “exertional heat stroke,” or EHS, the same condition that killed Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stinger in the summer of 2001. EHS is a deadly-serious medical condition that happens when intensive physical activity causes a rise in core body temperature. It’s the leading cause of death in the summer months.

Though EHS is most likely to strike in hot, humid conditions, it can happen anytime in all kinds of weather. An athlete’s tolerance for heat can relate to:

  • Body hydration;
  • Fitness level;
  • The length and frequency of rest periods;
  • Acclimatization and illness.
Another major factor-and one of the most critical-is whether coaches and supervisors know how to respond to a heat-related medical emergency.

As schools' athletics teams begin preparing for the fall sports seasons, coaches must know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and what to do if a heat-related medical emergency occurs. The Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) can provide critical information about these signs and symptoms, as well as guidelines for hydration, practice models and heat index calculators.

Learn more about what you can to do safeguard the lives and health of student athletes during these warm-weather months. You will also help your school or district avoid the financial liabilities that could otherwise result from a tragedy caused by heat-related illness.

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