UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Medical encounters in Iron Man Triathlons

Keywords: Race day event, medical tent, endurance athlete (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/28/2023 by Brian Corwell, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
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The objective of a recent study was to analyze the injury and illness characteristics in Iron Man distance triathletes. This information is important for emergency providers who may be asked to directly assist or help coordinate race day medical care.

Intro: The Iron Man distance triathlon is one of the most challenging ultra endurance competitions in the world. 80,000 Iron Man triathletes compete internationally each year to qualify for the Ironman world championship. The race totals 140.6 miles across three legs, beginning with a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile cycle, and is completed with a 26.2 mile run.

Retrospective cross-sectional study of medical records from Iron Man distance championship races across a 30-year period (1989-2019). The study population (10,533) consisted of all triathletes treated at mobile medical units along the race route or who presented to the medical tent for evaluation during and immediately after the event.

Mean population age of 37 with a range of 18 to 87 years.

Results: Female athletes were found to present to the medical tent more than males (P < 0.001).

The total incidence of medical encounters by age was found to be higher in both younger athletes (18 to 34 years old) and older athletes (greater than 70 years old) versus middle-aged athletes (35-69 years old) (P < 0.001).

Professional athletes have similar overall medical encounters compared with other athletes.

The busiest hours of the medical tent were between approximately 9 and 14 hours after start time (afternoon and early evening) in which approximately 73% of athletes presented for evaluation and treatment.

Once inside the medical tent 71% of athletes were discharged within an hour and 87% were discharged within 1.5 hours. Athletes were dispatched to the hospital from the medical tent area at a rate of 17.1/1000 athletes (most athletes presenting to the medical tent finished the race and few required hospital transfer).

The most common medical complaints were dehydration and nausea followed by dizziness, exhaustion, muscle cramps, and vomiting.

Blood work was collected for 30% of athletes who entered the medical tent. Of these athletes, hyponatremia was the most prevalent diagnosis and most of whom were symptomatic with symptoms such as confusion, stupor, gait disturbance, muscle weakness, headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.

Beyond basic medical care, intravenous fluids were the most common medical treatment.

Conclusion: Medical events were more frequent among female athletes as well as both younger and older age categories. Gastrointestinal and exertional related symptoms were the most common complaints in the medical tent. Besides basic medical care, IV infusions were the most common treatment. Most athletes presenting to the medical tent finished the race and only a small percentage were transferred to the hospital.

 

 

References

Nilssen PK, Connolly CP, Johnson KB, Cho SP, Cohoe BH, Miller TK, Laird RH, Sallis RE, Hiller WDB. Medical Encounters and Treatment Outcomes in Ironman-Distance Triathlon. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2023 Nov 1;55(11):1968-1976.

Nilssen PK, Connolly CP, Johnson KB, Cho SP, Cohoe BH, Miller TK, Laird RH, Sallis RE, Hiller WDB. Medical Encounters and Treatment Outcomes in Ironman-Distance Triathlon. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2023 Nov 1;55(11):1968-1976.