Millions of students will be returning to scholastic sports in the coming weeks. Reducing the risk of catastrophic injury is a priority for everyone involved in sports.
The most common causes of sudden death in athletes are cardiac, neurologic and heat-related. Measures to minimize tragedies associated with these conditions include effective screening of athletes and the availability of established protocols with appropriate resuscitative equipment in the event of an emergency.
Cardiac conditions can be effectively screened based on careful evaluation of symptoms and testing performed on athletes who have a significant personal or family history of cardiac arrhythmias. The availability of an AED (automated external defibrillator) at all athletic events has proven to be lifesaving.
Traumatic brain injuries result from high-velocity impact causing hemorrhage and swelling in the brain. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of this injury and taking immediate steps can avoid a tragedy. Any athlete who sustains head trauma should be removed from play and evaluated.
Exertional heat stroke occurs when the body temperature reaches 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include confusion, lightheadedness and headache. If untreated, persistent hyperthermia will result in coma and death.
One effective way to avoid these catastrophes is to have appropriate protocols and policies in place. Among these are emergency action plans (EAPs) that apply to each situation.
In a recent report published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine, Connecticut ranked 38th in a survey of all states with respect to having the proper protocols in place.
“EAPs are a no-cost way to facilitate communication across all key stakeholders for athletics programs and reduce critical delays in care for athletes,” reports Samantha Scarneo, Director of Sport Safety at the Korey Stringer Institute at UConn and one of the study’s authors.
Every school should have a plan that can be easily put into action to deal with medical emergencies on the athletic field.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org