Athletes- Undetected Health Dangers - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Athletes- Undetected Health Dangers

August 7, 2002

Athletes suddenly dying from undetected health problems. It's a tragedy that happens too often. ABAC hopeful basketball player Maurice Collins, LSU baseball player Wally Pontiff, even St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Darryl Kile.

All had physical exams before they could participate in sports, but each died suddenly from health problems not found in those physicals.

High school football practice is underway in South Georgia. Athletes are being pushed to the limit in searing heat. The athletes have to pass a physical exam, but is it enough to find hidden health problems?

Dr. Sean Bryan says, "The system we have-- we know it's not perfect." Lee County High Football players get physicals being at Phoebe Putney Northwest. Even Doctors admit they can't find all health problems that could kill.

Dr. Bryan: "I don't know if we will ever come up with a system that is perfect. Where we prevent every sudden death from happening. But we ought to do the best we can."

The pre-participation screening exam is good. An extensive medical history form has to be filled out by a parent. A general medical screening, listening to the heart and lungs, checking blood pressure, orthopedic screenings.

But is it enough? Lee County High Lineman Stephen Harrell said, "I think it's plenty. If you can pas the physical you're ready to play ball."

Dougherty County Athletic Trainer Henry Rivers said, "That's really a coach’s or a trainer’s worst nightmare. A young athlete or any athlete dying on them."

Rivers watches a lot of practice, and is always on the look out for trouble. He is there to safeguard their health. "This may be their only opportunity to meet medical professionals. The only contact they may have, they may not have a family physician."

Athletes using muscle building supplements could increase hidden problems. Ephedrine can speed up the heartbeat and stress it. Creatine can cause dehydration, when an athlete's body is already battling heat stress. Sports Medicine professionals are working to improve physical examinations.

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine debates the cost of more extensive physicals against the cost of life saving equipment at practices and games.

"That we be better served using a fair amount of those resources into automatic external defibrillators." said Dr. Bryan. "At the field, at events, at practice. So that if someone does suffer a sudden cardiac death, they can be defibrillated much sooner, which increases their chance of survival."

Sports medicine experts, hoping to stop athletes sudden deaths from health problems that go undetected, know they face a challenge that might be impossible. Because of the number of cardiac problems in their athletes, Italian sports medicine experts gave electrocardiograms in all their physical exams during a study period, with limited success screening problems.

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