A collaborative study has helped reduce medical emergencies during mass endurance sports events. File photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
TUKS has done it again: a collaborative study, led by Profesor Martin Schwellnus, of the University of Pretoria’s Sport, Exercise Medicine and Lifestyle Institute (SEMLI), has helped reduce medical emergencies during mass endurance sports events.

The work, done in partnership with UCT, the MRC Biostatistics Unit and Professor Wayne Derman, of Stellenbosch University, has led to a reduction in such emergencies encountered during marathons and other top endurance events.

“Medical emergencies at mass sporting events are happening more often than they should be,” says Schwellnus, Director of SEMLI, who has been working in these medical tents for the past 25 years.

Schwellnus (previously at the University of Cape Town) led this study, with the overall objective of making mass community-based endurance events safer for all participants. The team used an online pre-race medical screening and education intervention tool ahead.

The study was conducted over an eight-year period using the Two Oceans Marathon. Over the eight years, the researchers studied 153 208 Two Oceans race starters in both the 21km and the 56km events.

Each person who completed the screening was categorised into one of four categories, with “Very High Risk” and “High Risk” being the red- flag categories. People in these categories would receive educational intervention programmes.

The study found that medical encounters, including all types of injuries could be reduced by 29%, with a 64% reduction in life-threatening situations - including sudden death - thanks to this simple screening process and educational interventions.

The risk of a medical encounter, including sudden death, during such prolonged moderate- to high- intensity exercise is related to extrinsic factors, including environmental stress and race distance, and also intrinsic factors such as older age.

Underlying chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes and risk factors for chronic disease also put an individual at greater risk, he said.

The results have implications for all South Africa’s most popular mass sports events such as marathon races and cycle tours. Staff Reporter