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Jul 28, 2014

Heat Stroke, Not Sudden Cardiac Death, is Top Threat for Marathon Runners

Long distance running involves a slightly increased risk of death, with heat stroke being the main cause, finds study.

Long distance running involves a slightly increased risk of death but it’s heat stroke, not heart events, that we should be worried about, according to a recent study.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study looked at two important causes of sudden death among marathon runners: sudden cardiac death and heat stroke. Although sudden cardiac death has garnered significant media attention in recent years, experts wondered just how common sudden cardiac death and heat stroke are among long distance runners.

Researchers examined all long distances races that took place in Israel between 2007 and 2013, which included a total of 137,580 runners. During this period, there were only two serious heart events, neither of which was fatal or life-threatening. However, there were 21 cases of heat stroke, two of which were fatal and 12 of which were considered life threatening.

Authors believe these findings bring a new perspective to the ongoing debate about heart risks in long distance runners. Since marathons are associated with increased risk of sudden cardiac death, experts have considered screenings to identify individuals at high risk for heart events. The problem is that such screenings may cause unnecessary stress in those identified as high risk, without saving many lives.

The good news is that risk of sudden cardiac death is very low, even among long distance runners. This study suggests that for every serious heart event among marathon runners, there were 10 serious events related to heat stroke. Instead of focusing solely on heart-related conditions among runners, authors believe it’s important to focus on heat stroke prevention during long distance races. Not only is heat stroke more common among runners, this study suggests that heat stroke causes more deaths than sudden cardiac death.
Read the full study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

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.

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