Athletes can suffer strokes too

A stroke results from a lack of blood supply to an area of the brain and causes damage to cells. Common factors for stroke include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and inactivity. Due to the scarcity of these risk factors in athletes, stroke is rarely seen in this group.

Although uncommon, an entirely different group of factors plays a role when an athlete suffers a stroke.

Head and neck trauma are often factors in stroke during athletic competitions. Direct head trauma can result in leakage from blood vessels, depriving large regions of the brain of necessary nutrients.

Violent forward and backward movement of the head can result in tearing the inner lining of vital arteries responsible for directing blood to the brain. This condition, known as arterial dissection, can form a clot within the affected blood vessel or become a source of small clots. These smaller clots often move toward the brain as emboli and block other arteries.

Treatment for arterial dissection involves the use of blood thinning medications and avoiding violent collision sports.

Another common risk factor for stroke in athletes is the existence of a patent foramen ovale (PFO). A PFO is a hole between the upper chambers of the heart, the right and left atria. The foramen ovale forms in the fourth week of embryonic development and should close in the first three months after birth. When it does not close, it is considered patent or open.

This abnormal channel allows direct passage of blood clots to the brain. These clots often originate in the legs and may result from immobilized lower extremities.

PFOs can be treated with equal success by surgical closure or blood thinning medications. Athletes appear to do better with surgical closure and usually make a full recovery to return to sports.

While considered rare, strokes do occur in athletes and treatment requires a different approach.

Athletes and energy drinks don't mix

Every athlete is looking for a competitive advantage. That advantage may be a better training technique, more advanced equipment or a different strategic approach.

Medicinal supplements have recently become a focus of attention and among the more popular are energy drinks. Most energy drinks are a combination of caffeine and sugar with assorted other herbal additions to boost the potency. The marketing and sale of energy drinks has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise that attempts to appeal to all segments of society regardless of gender, age or socioeconomic status.

Despite the marketing success of these products, no objective evidence has been produced regarding the ability of energy drinks to improve athletic performance. In fact, stories of physical detriment from the use of these supplements have begun to emerge.

One such incident impacted the life of Drake Williams, a high school senior basketball player, and was reported by Tanya Arja for Fox News Tampa. It was the first day of practice and the team was performing drills when he collapsed, a victim of sudden cardiac arrest. Fortunately, a defibrillator was immediately available and his heart was shocked back into normal rhythm.

While no direct correlation could be established, his doctors believe that the fact that he drank two energy drinks in the 24 hours prior to the incident played a role.

Energy drinks, like other nutritional supplements, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Soft drinks are considered food and limited to no more than 71 mg of caffeine per 12 ounces, while energy drinks can contain between 75 mg and 400 mg per serving.

Studies show that energy drinks are regularly consumed by 30 percent to 50 percent of children, adolescents and young adults. Some common effects of high doses of caffeine include irritability, restlessness, increased blood pressure and heart rate, headaches and tremors. Ironically, many of these effects may be detrimental to athletic performance rather than enhancing.

During any athletic endeavor, heart rate and blood pressure typically soar. The addition of highly caffeinated supplements such as energy drinks can create a deadly combination.