Medical Conditions in Athletes

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Not all athletic health issues are related to bones and joints. At Houston Methodist, our primary care sports medicine specialists are experienced treating the most common medical issues affecting athletes of all ages:  


  • Asthma
  • Exercise-associated muscle cramps
  • Heart problems
  • Heat stroke
  • Overtraining syndrome
  • Rhabdomyolysis (a rapid breakdown of muscle tissue due to injury)
  • Runner's stitch
  • Supplements


Asthma is a medical problem that causes a restriction of airflow in and out of the lungs. Athletes with asthma may complain of wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing, which may result in poor performance. Many things, including exercise, can trigger asthma. 


Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps 

Severe, painful muscle cramps in the legs, back and abdomen that arise after prolonged exercise in the heat are very common. They occur mostly at the beginning of the season in athletes who are less accustomed to the heat. 


Heart Problems in Athletes 

Like any other muscle, the heart changes with exercise. Those changes are usually positive, but in rare cases, exercise can be dangerous to the heart. In young athletes, a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common problem, but in athletes age 35 or older, coronary artery disease becomes much more likely. 


Heat Stroke 

Heat stroke is a deadly condition brought on by too much exercise in the heat. Patients with heat stroke have lost the ability to regulate their body temperature and will often have a temperature above 106 degrees. Patients with heat stroke will usually be sweating profusely and be disoriented, and often will have nausea and vomiting. 


Overtraining Syndrome 

Overtraining syndrome has been recognized as a cause of decreased performance in elite athletes. The prolonged periods of training required for high-level participation in sports can lead to changes in the brain and immune system that we have termed "overtraining syndrome." 
The athlete may note frequent infections, chronic fatigue, depressed mood, poor sleep and decreased performance, despite adequate training and nutrition. Diagnosis can be difficult, and treatment may involve prolonged rest, changes in training routine and medications. 



Rhabdomyolysis is a condition that causes severe muscle damage and is often brought on by extreme exercise. When the muscles are severely damaged, they break down and release products into the bloodstream that can damage the kidneys and liver. This condition can be life-threatening if not treated appropriately. If you develop severe muscle pains and notice dark urine after an episode of extreme training, seek medical care immediately. 


Runner's Stitch 

Many of us have experienced a "stitch," or pain in the side that comes on with prolonged exercise, usually running. This problem is not dangerous but can be quite painful. Runner's stitch is similar to other muscle cramps and is thought to be related to localized sodium imbalances. It can also be caused by gastrointestinal cramping. 



Many athletes take supplements to improve health and performance. Billions of dollars are spent each year in the U.S. on products that advertise the ability to improve appearance, performance and health. Some supplements, such as creatine and glucosamine, are useful in certain populations, but many are useless and have no scientific research to back up their claims. 


If you are taking a supplement, or if you are considering using supplements to improve your performance, talk to the sports medicine specialists at Houston Methodist. We can help you determine whether a supplement is right for you.


Whatever your injury or condition, we have the experience and expertise to help get you back to peak performance.


Ready to get moving again? Call us at 713.790.3333 to discuss your options.


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