Sudden cardiac death and athletes
Sudden cardiac death (SCD) rarely occurs in athletes, but when it does happen, it is often reported in the media, which makes it seem more common.
Most cases of SCD are related to undetected cardiovascular disease.
Sudden cardiac death affects about 1 in 100,000 to 300,000 young athletes, mostly males. Most cases involve team sports, and many times these young athletes have congenital heart defects (present at birth) that haven’t been discovered.
Older athletes, aged 35 and older, are more likely than younger athletes to experience SCD. This happens most often while jogging. About 1 in 15,000 joggers and 1 in 50,000 marathon runners have SCD. In this population, SCD is usually related to coronary artery disease.
Cardiovascular screening for high school and collegiate athletes is recommended. The screening should include a complete and careful evaluation of the athlete’s personal and family history and a physical exam.
Screening should be repeated every 2 years, and a history should be obtained every year.
Men aged 40 years and older and women aged 50 years and older should also have an exercise stress test and receive education about cardiac risk factors and symptoms.
If the screening shows that an athlete has or may have heart problems, he or she should be referred to a cardiologist for further evaluation and treatment guidelines before participating in sports.