This week, I will be watching Laura Wilkinson, an Olympic diver with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease as she competes in the Summer Games. I have seen a great deal of information on asthma and Olympic athletes but almost nothing on the issues of athletes with GERD.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, one in six Olympic athletes has exercised induced asthma. The big story in the media has been protecting all athletes, with or without asthma from the poor air quality in Beijing (read more about Beijing's air quality here). I have not found any statistics on the number of athletes with GERD but I suspect it is a common condition among the athletes. Parents of teens with GERD often contact me for advice on helping their young athletes compete in high school sports. I am sure these young athletes are grateful to have an Olympic athlete such as Laura Wilkinson to look up to as they find ways to manage GERD and competitive sports.
Teens with GERD are able to compete in a variety of highly competitive sports such as swimming, running and soccer. But it isn't always fun and games. One state champion wrestler had to take the season off due to GERD. A competitive soccer player who lives to kick a soccer ball couldn't find a way to manage her symptoms while on an elite team.
I have heard that athletes with GERD can lessen the symptoms by eating small meals, sipping water and avoiding a meal or large drink before competition, especially when engaging in contact sports, running and wrestling. Well timed medication can make a world of difference. Even with the best care, crushing chest pain and ill timed nausea and vomiting can adversely affect performance and stamina.
I hope that the field of Sports Medicine will address the needs of athletes with a variety of health conditions, including GERD. Meanwhile we will all be cheering Laura Wilkinson and the U.S. Olympic team for overcoming whatever obstacles they face to compete.
Read more about the 2008 Olympic Games here