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Heat Illness Sends Thousands to ER Each Year

Study Shows Sports-Related Heat Illnesses Keep Emergency Rooms Busy
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

July 28, 2011 -- About 6,000 people a year seek emergency treatment for heat illnesses suffered while playing sports or participating in other recreational activities outdoors, the CDC says in a new report.

During the period examined, 2001 through 2009, the CDC says 75% of those treated for heat illness in emergency rooms and departments were male, and 35% were between the ages of 15 and 19.

The two most common sport and recreation activities leading to treatment in emergency rooms for heat illnesses were football and general exercise.

Tips to Prevent Heat Illness

The CDC says parents and coaches could reduce emergency room visits by taking special steps to prevent young athletes from succumbing to the heat -- timely advice while much of the nation has been coping with a heat wave.

The CDC says people who spend time in the heat should take frequent rest breaks, drink plenty of fluids, and limit activity on hot or very humid days.

Also, athletes and others who spend time in the heat should wear light weight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing, the CDC says.  Sports practices that begin during summer months should gradually increase the frequency, duration, and intensity of the practice to allow athletes to get used to the heat.

Some symptoms and signs of heat illness include heat rash, muscle cramping, heavy sweating, nausea and vomiting, high body temperature, weakness, and fainting.

The CDC points out that without prompt treatment, severe heat illness can cause organ failure, brain damage, and death.

ER Visits Due to Heat Illness

The CDC estimate of nearly 6,000 people affected annually was based on data for people who were treated in emergency departments each year for a heat illness that occurred while they were playing in a sport or participating in another recreational activity.

The agency estimated the annual rate of emergency room visits related to heat problems at two per 100,000 people.

Among the key findings:

  • Males accounted for 72.5% of emergency visits.
  • 35.6% of those seeking emergency treatment were ages 15-19.
  • 7.1% of those seeking heat-related treatment were hospitalized.

The study was based on data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance system, an ongoing program that monitors consumer-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments.

The CDC says that 66.4% of sports- and recreation-related heat illnesses were recorded during the July-September period. The most dangerous month, the data suggest, is August, which accounts for 33.2% of ER visits. The CDC says 19.8% of the problems occur in July, 13.5% in September, and 12.9% in June.

The CDC says 250 million U.S. residents report that they participate at least occasionally in sports or recreational activities, and study authors say theirs is the first to provide national estimates for heat illnesses requiring visits to emergency departments.

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