Pre-Sports Physical Can Prevent Sudden Death Among Athletes

Harvard Health News


Between 200 and 300 young people die each year while playing sports. In many cases, the underlying health condition that led to death could have been identified by a pre-sports medical exam.

Some of the sudden deaths are caused by injury, heat stroke, asthma, or other causes. More than half of them can be traced to cardiac arrest — the sudden cessation of a normal heartbeat and blood circulation. The most common cause in these cases is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inherited condition in which the heart muscle becomes disorganized and thick. Individuals born with coronary arteries that are abnormally connected to the heart are also at risk of sudden death. Heart infection or inflammation and a host of less common conditions, such as Marfan syndrome and long QT syndrome, can also spark cardiac arrest during sports.

Although sudden death happens most often in football (30 percent of these deaths), basketball (22 percent), soccer (6 percent), and baseball (6 percent), it also happens to swimmers, lacrosse players, rowers, gymnasts, figure skaters, golfers, and other athletes.

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