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Aug 02, 2011

A Broader Look at Sports-Related Sudden Death

Adults participating in recreational sports at greatest risk for sudden cardiac death.

Sports-related sudden death has become a major concern over recent years, particularly among competitive athletes. With the long hours that professional athletes put in, they can be at increased risk for sudden cardiac death as they run their bodies down, especially if they have other cardiovascular risk factors. But what about the average adult? Does risk for sports-related sudden death increase even with participation in recreational sports?

A recent study published in Circulation reported that risk for sports-related sudden death may be greater than initially anticipated in the general population. Researchers at the Paris Cardiovascular Center in France found that among subjects 10 to 75 years old participating in either competitive or recreational sports, there were about 4.6 cases of sudden cardiac death per million per year. However, 94% of all sudden cardiac death events occurred in middle-aged adults around 46 years old participating in recreational activities, 95% of whom were men. Although most cases were witnessed, CPR was only performed on one-third of cases, which can increase likelihood of survival by nearly four times.

What does this mean for recreational athletes? Sudden cardiac death from recreational sports participation may actually be more common than suspected. To help reduce risk for sudden cardiac death, athletes should talk with their doctor before participating in sports. They should also reduce and control any cardiovascular risk factors they may have, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and maintain a healthy weight and diet. Furthermore, the importance of performing CPR on those suffering sudden cardiac arrest should be impressed upon the general population, as it can help greatly improve likelihood of survival.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is sudden cardiac death?

  • Sudden cardiac death can result from sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest must be immediately addressed with CPR and medical attention to improve chances of survival.
  • Who is most at risk for sudden cardiac death?

  • Men are 2-3 times more likely to have sudden cardiac arrest than women. Risk also increases with age, particularly in those with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as an arrhythmia or heart failure. It is important to address any cardiovascular risk factors or conditions to reduce risk for sudden cardiac arrest and death.