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Heat-related injuries in athletes: signs, symptoms and prevention

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

A football player from Seventy-First High School in Fayetteville died this weekend after becoming ill at practice. Evan Raines, 16, was treated by medical workers before he was transported to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center where he later died.

According to the teen's father, Evan had complained of chest pains and shortness of breath at Saturday's practice. Although a cause of death has not been released, one possible cause may be a heat stroke.

In light of Raines' death, Dr. Kevin Campbell will discuss heat-related injuries for young athletes Wednesday morning on WNCN Today. Dr. Campbell will address the signs, symptoms and prevention.

What is a heat stroke and who is most vulnerable?

A heat stroke, also referred to as heatstroke or sun stroke, is a life-threatening medical condition. The body's cooling system, which is controlled by the brain, stops working and the internal body temperature rises to the point at which brain damage or damage to other internal organs may result. A person's temperature may reach 105 F or greater.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 155 people died in 2012 as a result of extreme heat, down from 206 fatalities in 2011. An average of 119 people die each year due to extreme heat conditions in the United States.

Infants, children under the age of four, overweight people, and the elderly are more likely to suffer heat strokes. People taking antihistamines, diuretics (water pills), and certain types of medication for high blood pressure, heart disease, or depression are also susceptible to these conditions.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Heat Stroke Symptoms:

Heatstroke occurs when the body fails to regulate its own temperature and body temperature continues to rise, often to 105 F or higher. Signs of rapidly progressing heatstroke include:

  • Unconsciousness for longer than a few seconds.
  • Convulsion (seizure).
  • Signs of moderate to severe difficulty breathing.
  • A rectal temperature over 104?F (40?C) after exposure to a hot environment.
  • Confusion, severe restlessness, or anxiety.
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Sweating that may be heavy or may have stopped.
  • Skin that may be red, hot, and dry, even in the armpits.
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Even with immediate treatment, it can be life-threatening or result in serious, long-term complications.

What can we do to prevent it?

Avoid heat exhaustion by not engaging in strenuous activity in hot, humid environments. People who are not used to the heat should be particularly careful. Intersperse periods of rest in a cool environment with plenty of available fluids to drink. Avoid strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day.

People in supervisory positions such as coaches, trainers, and lifeguards should be trained to specifically recognize signs of heat illness and what preventive measures to take.

If you suspect heat stroke what should you do? What are the treatments?

Call a doctor or take the person to the hospital if heat exhaustion or heat stroke is suspected. If a person is unable to keep fluids down or if his or hers mental status begins to deteriorate, go to a hospital immediately. Symptoms of shortness of breath, chest pain, or abdominal pain may indicate that the heat exhaustion is accompanied by more serious medical problems.

Do not attempt to treat a case of heat stroke at home, but there are ways you can help while waiting for medical assistance to arrive:

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Move the person to a cooler environment, or place him or her in a cool (not cold) bath of water (as long as the person is conscious and can be attended continuously).
  • Alternatively, moisten the skin with lukewarm water and use a fan to blow cool air across the skin.
  • Give cool beverages by mouth only if the person has a normal mental state and can tolerate it.
  • Treatment of heat stroke in hospital
  • Treatment is aimed at reducing the patient's core temperature to normal as quickly as possible.

The doctor may use immersion, evaporative, or invasive cooling techniques. In the evaporative technique, cold or ice packs may be placed in the armpits or groin. The skin is kept moist with cool fluid, and fans are directed to blow across the body.

Treatment will continue until the patient's body core temperature is 101.3-102.2 F and then stopped to keep from making the patient too cold. The patient most likely will be admitted to the hospital for further blood tests and observation.

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