Sudden Cardiac Death More Common in Young Athletes Than Thought

TUESDAY April 5, 2011 -- Sudden cardiac death kills more young athletes in the United States than previously estimated, according to a new study.

An analysis of news reports, insurance claims and data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) revealed that one in 43,770 NCAA athletes suffer sudden cardiac death each year, said the researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The investigators tracked deaths from 2004 to 2008 and found that there were 273 deaths from all causes, including: 187 deaths (68 percent) from non-medical/traumatic causes; 80 deaths (29 percent) from medical causes; and six deaths (2 percent) from unknown causes.

The deaths from medical causes included 45 athletes (56 percent) who suffered cardiovascular-related sudden death. Of the 36 deaths that occurred during or shortly after physical activity, 27 (75 percent) were related to cardiac causes, according to the study published in the April 4 online issue of the journal Circulation.

The study also found that:

  • Black athletes had a higher rate of sudden cardiac death (one in 17,696) than white athletes (one in 58,653).
  • The risk was higher in males (one in 33,134) than in females (one in 76,646).
  • The highest rate of sudden cardiac death was in basketball (one in 11,394), followed by swimming, lacrosse, football and cross-country track.

About 400,000 students, ages 17 to 23, participate in NCAA sports each year. Sports training and competition can increase the risk of sudden cardiac death in people with underlying heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

The researchers said their findings could influence health screening guidelines for young people in organized sports.

"The American Heart Association regards cardiovascular screening for athletes as an important public health issue, for which there are compelling ethical, legal and medical grounds," Dr. Ralph L. Sacco, president of the American Heart Association, said in a journal news release.

"We strongly encourage student-athletes and other participants in organized competitive sports to be screened with a careful history, including family history, and thorough physical examination. The American Heart Association also believes health care professionals providing the screening should be able to order noninvasive testing when they judge it is needed," Sacco added.

More information

Parent Heart Watch has more about sudden cardiac arrest/death in young people.

Posted: April 2011


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