Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Medication Use in Elite Athletes

Antti Alaranta

Doctoral dissertation, May 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Pharmacy, Division of Social Pharmacy.

For many athletes, sport is not safe enough without medicines. Heavy physical training causes several physiological and pathophysiological changes and stress in respiratory, cardiovascular, immunologic, endocrinological, and musculoskeletal systems in highly-trained athletes. If athletes suffer from asthma, high blood pressure, or cardiac arrhythmia, sport challenges their bodies under unique stresses, which raise the likelihood of a chronic or catastrophic harm.

The present study aimed at determining the use of prescribed medication and factors associated with it in a large number of elite athletes compared with a representative control sample of the general population. Of all the athletes (N = 494) financially supported by the National Olympic Committee, 446 completed a structured questionnaire (response rate 90.3%) in 2002. A control group (N = 1503, response rate 80.1%) comprised an age-matched sample from the population-based study collected by the National Public Health Institute.

The use of prescribed asthma and allergy medication, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), and oral antibiotics during the past seven days is 2-4-fold in elite athletes compared with the general population of the same age. Allergy medication is most commonly used medicine group among athletes followed by NSAIDs, asthma medication and oral antibiotics. Every fifth athlete reported of the adverse effects associated with the use of NSAIDs.

The frequency of self-reported asthma medication is clearly lower than the reported occurrence of physician-diagnosed asthma in a large sample of Finnish Olympic athletes. Use of asthma medication is most frequent in endurance athletes, but no difference is found between winter and summer sport athletes. Female athletes use asthma medication more often than males. No evidence of overuse of inhaled 2-agonists is found. Treatment of airway inflammation seems unsatisfactory.

Endurance athletes have physician-diagnosed allergic rhinitis and they use allergy medication more often than athletes in other events or control subjects. Female athletes use allergy medication more frequently than male athletes. Only half of the athletes reporting allergic rhinitis take allergy medication. More attention needs to be paid to the optimal management of allergic rhinitis in highly-trained athletes.

All the above-mentioned medicines have potential adverse effects that may have deleterious impact on the maximum exercise performance of elite athletes. Thus, any unnecessary medicine use should be minimized in elite athletes.

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Last updated 10.05.2006

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