By Mary Elizabeth Dallas
The researchers pointed out that endurance athletes participating in events in warm climates are actually 10 times more likely to develop severe and life-threatening heat stroke. Yet, the less common sudden death of a young and apparently healthy person due to undetected heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat, often gets a lot more media attention.
"This research shows that heat stroke is a real threat to marathon and long-distance runners; however, there are no clinical studies of potential strategies to prevent heat stroke during these types of events," senior study author Dr. Sami Viskin, a cardiologist at Tel Aviv Medical Center in Israel, said in a news release from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
"It's important that clinicians educate runners on the ways to minimize their risk of heat stroke, including allowing 10 to 14 days to adjust to a warm climate, discouraging running if a person is ill or was recently ill, because a pre-existing fever impairs the body's ability to dissipate additional heat stress, and developing better methods of monitoring body core temperature during physical activity," Viskin said.
Races longer than 6.2 miles have become increasingly popular among endurance athletes. To assess the greatest health risks associated with these types of events, the researchers analyzed information compiled on all death and hospitalizations that occurred at 14 long-distance races in Tel Aviv between March 2007 and November 2013.
Out of nearly 140,000 runners, only two serious heart-related events were reported during the study period. None of these were life-threatening. The researchers found however, that 21 people developed heat stroke. Of these cases, two were fatal and 12 were considered life-threatening.
The study was published July 28 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.