Sudden Death Among Athletes Higher Than Formerly Reported

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading medical cause of death during sport in student athletes

TUESDAY, April 5 (HealthDay News) -- The incidence of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) student-athletes is higher than previous estimates suggest, with a rate of one in 43,770 athletes suffering SCD, according to a study published online April 4 in Circulation.

Kimberly G. Harmon, M.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues investigated the incidence of SCD in NCAA student-athletes and evaluated the accuracy of traditional SCD data collection methods. All cases of sudden death in NCAA student-athletes between January 2004 and December 2008 were identified using an NCAA database, systematic searches of public media reports, and catastrophic insurance claims.

The researchers identified 273 deaths during the period studied. Of these, 68 percent (187 deaths) were due to nonmedical or traumatic causes, 29 percent (80 deaths) resulted from medical causes, and 2 percent (6 deaths) had unknown causes. Among the 80 deaths related to medical causes, 56 percent (45) were due to cardiovascular-related sudden death, accounting for 75 percent of sudden deaths during exertions. The SCD incidence was one in 43,770 participants per year, and one in 3,100 per year among NCAA Division I male basketball players.

"SCD is the leading medical cause of death in NCAA athletes, is the leading cause of death during sport and exercise, and occurs at a much higher rate than previously accepted," the authors write. "Improved strategies for identification of those at risk for sudden cardiac arrest and prevention of SCD must be considered. Electrocardiogram screening should be considered for the highest-risk groups."

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