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Sudden Cardiac Death Rare in Young Athletes

Risk is similar to that of being killed by lightning, study finds

MONDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- The rate of young athletes in the United States dying of sudden cardiac failure is relatively rare, on par with the same age group being involved in a lightning-related death, researchers say.

According to a study published in the journal Circulation, 1,866 U.A. athletes, ages 8 to 39, died suddenly or survived cardiac arrest from 1980 to 2006.

Cardiovascular disease killed more than half those athletes, with one in three being linked to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that results in an enlarged heart that can often be detected by a routine electrocardiogram (ECG).

While ECGs are used regularly in pre-screening athletes in Europe, particular in Italy, debate has been ongoing as to whether the United States should call for more rigorous and broad health screening of athletes. The American Heart Association recommends deeper examination only if a first-line physical and family history raises questions or issues.

"Indeed, the relatively low absolute number of cardiovascular sudden death events reported here in young athletes raises some doubt regarding the ambitious considerations for pre-participation screening based on the rigorous Italian model," lead author Dr. Barry Maron, director of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, Minn., said in the published report.

An average of 66 athlete deaths were caused by cardiovascular disease in the last six years in the study period, with the most in a year being 76. Maron said the cardiovascular issued probably wouldn't have been identified in about 30 percent of those cases even if with ECGs and other strict screening.

Of the other cardiac deaths in young U.S. athletes, 22 percent (416) resulted from blunt trauma that structurally damaged the person's heart. Commotio cordis, a blow to the chest that interrupts the heart's beating, caused another 4 percent (65), while heat stroke caused 2 percent (46).

"The low overall event rate reported here should provide a general measure of reassurance regarding sports participation," Maron said in the report.

More information

The Children's Cardiomyopathy Foundation has more about cardiomyopathy.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Feb. 16, 2009

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