Sudden Cardiac Death on the Sports Field
May 1st, 2017
Hearing stories of sudden cardiac death on the sports field are more and more common. The cause among young athletes is most commonly heart muscle diseases, congenital deformities of the coronary arteries or heart muscle inflammation. Two of the most common cardiac diseases causing sudden cardiac death include Brugada Syndrome and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. For top young athletes who die from sudden cardiac death but appear very healthy, the cause is most often a congenital, unnoticeable heart defect. Arrhythmias can be triggered by extreme training, which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Despite regular cardiac examinations, not all heart disorders (such as those triggered by undetectable viruses) can be ruled out. Athletes often hide infections of the upper airway or the gastrointestinal tract from their team physicians in order to prevent being side-lined for a week or more. Whether professional or amateur athlete: sports should be avoided for two weeks following recovery from an infection. In 5-10% of cases, an accompanying heart muscle inflammation is present without the athlete knowing.
Sudden cardiac death occurs not only in professional athletes, but even more frequently in ambitious amateurs of all ages. From the databank „Sudden Cardiac Death Register“ from the Institute for Sport and Preventative Medicine in Saarbrücken, in the last four and half years, 265 cases of sudden cardiac arrest occurred during sports in Germany. The average age was 47 years old, with coronary artery disease being the most common cause of death. Most of the affected athletes avoided, or were not even offered, regular cardiac examinations by small clubs. It is very important for athletes to have a regular stress ECG performed in order to detect disturbances of circulation or arrhythmias. This serves as an objective assessment of the athlete’s physical capabilities. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are good for the heart. If sudden cardiac death occurs, sport is not the cause, but the trigger.