, Volume 31, Issue 2-3, pp 259-268

β2-Agonists at the olympic games

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Abstract

The different approaches that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had adopted to β2-agonists and the implications for athletes are reviewed by a former Olympic team physician who later became a member of the Medical Commission of the IOC (IOC-MC). Steadily increasing knowledge of the effects of inhaled β2-agonists on health, is concerned with the fact that oral β2-agonists may be anabolic, and rapid increased use of inhaled β2-agonists by elite athletes has contributed to the changes to the IOC rules. Since 2001, the necessity for athletes to meet IOC criteria (i.e., that they have asthma and/or exercise-induced asthma [EIA]) has resulted in imporved management of athletes. The prevalence of β2-agonist use by athletes mirrors the known prevalence of asthma symptoms in each country, although athletes in endurance events have the highest prevalence. The age-of-onset of asthma/EIA in elite winter athletes may be atypical. Of the 193 athletes at the 2006 Winter Olympics who met th IOC's criteria, only 32.1% had childhood asthma and 48.7% of athletes reported onset at age 20 yr or older. These findings lead to speculation that years of intense endurance training may be a causative factor in bronchial hyperreactivity. The distinction between oral (prohibited in sports) and inhaled salbutamol is possible, but athletes must be warned that excessive use of inhaled salbutamol can lead to urinary concentrations similar to those observed after oral administration. This article provides justification that athletes should provide evidence of asthma or EIA before being permitted to use inhaled β2-agonists.