The light, the atmosphere, the warmth… everything is on our side in this early summer to go out for a run. But beware, because heat, lack of foresight and mistakes can play a trick on us.
Who hasn’t heard of the “bird”? And who hasn’t suffered it in their own flesh? Those prepared people, of course. Today we are talking about this problem and the difference with another related, but a different one: heat stroke.
What is a bird?
What is a bird? Although its name seems very colloquial, this term refers to sudden physiological failure. Suddenly the legs fail, the muscles stop responding, there is dizziness and, in the worst case, even hallucinations.
This phenomenon usually occurs in endurance sports, such as running and is caused by the consumption of glucose reserves in the form of glycogen. Although we would still have the fatty acids, these have slower catabolism. Suddenly, blood sugar levels drop, causing hypoglycaemia.
Without immediate “food”, muscles begin to fail, since they have no energy to contract. The brain, very sensitive to hypoglycemia, also stops functioning properly. The consequences are, as we said, dizziness, nausea and muscle weakness, which, in the worst case, can lead to fainting.
How is it different from heat stroke?
Very similar in symptoms, although not so much in consequences, is heat stroke, also known as heat stress failure. When the body temperature rises above 38 degrees, the body begins to suffer the effects of heat.
Proteins begin to denature at 42 degrees, at which point the temperature can be fatal. Although our body is prepared to lower it immediately, through sweat, if external conditions are not conducive, and we are exercising, the heat may overtake us.
At that moment, the brain begins to suffer the consequences and the first symptoms appear: dizziness, fatigue, confusion… these can reach hallucinations, fainting due to hyperthermic exhaustion and even a vegetative picture. The heat, unlike the bird, can be lethal, so extreme precautions must be taken.
Can they be prevented?
Of course, both bird and heat stroke are preventable. In fact, this is much better than treating them. To prevent the bird the best thing we can do is to control our times and efforts so as not to incur in overexertion. It is also convenient to be well “armed”, having eaten hydrates and drank enough water. For very large efforts, hydrate loading is a good way to prevent.
Heat stroke is even easier to prevent: we only have to choose the times when it is less hot to do sport. Good hydration is essential, as well as wearing the right clothes for the time of year. But the most important thing, by far, is not to go out for an intense sport in hot hours.
What if prevention hasn’t helped? In other words, what should we do when it has given us a bird? The first thing is to stop the activity at the same time we are aware of it, to stop the energy expenditure. It is not enough to slow down or slow down if we are running: it is obligatory to stop because, otherwise, the consequences can be worse.
Immediately afterwards, we should eat foods and drinks containing fast absorbing sugars so that the body can assimilate them as soon as possible and recover. Dried fruits, sugary or isotonic drinks (not for salts, but for sugar) and energy bars can be a good option.
With heat stroke, the issue is even more crucial because a severe heat stroke can have very serious consequences, even lethal. At the slightest symptom, which is usually dizziness, we should stop and look for a cool place. It is also essential to hydrate immediately and try to lower the temperature moderately but firmly. This means that it is not advisable to use cold water at once, but it could be very useful to get constantly wet with warm water.
If we suffer a sudden change of temperature we could provoke a hydrocution, badly called cut of digestion, which could worsen the situation quickly. Being aware of the danger of heat and avoiding the most intense hours and direct irradiation, as well as good hydration, will be enough to avoid its dangers.