Athletes Not Over-Represented in Sudden Cardiac Death

Athletes have the same risk of
dying of sudden cardiac deaths
© Hemera

This is shown in a dissertation written by Aase Wisten at Umeå University, but those involved in athletic competition did die more often in the course of physical activity and more often had various types of structural heart disorders.

For the years 1992-1999 there were 181 cases of sudden cardiac death in the ages of 15-35 in the database at the Swedish National Board of Forensic Medicine. In some cases the autopsy revealed morbid changes in the heart, such as hardening of the coronary arteries or heart muscle diseases involving changes in the muscle walls of the heart.

In about 20% the heart had no morbid changes, the study shows. One explanation for cardiac arrest in these cases may be the occurrence of various types of electrical disturbances, even though the heart muscle appeared to be fully healthy. Such disturbances may be congenital, but they may also be acquired.

Half of all EKGs available showed changes while the others were fully normal. Most EKGs were for men and had been taken many years before death. When more than one EKG was available, it was possible to detect changes in the EKG curve over time in half of the cases, possibly indicating a morbid process in the heart.

Some few individuals had had a heart disorder diagnosed several years before death, and a few others were currently under examination. In one case of six there was a known hereditary propensity for sudden heart failure or for heart disease that could lead to it.

Male victims of sudden cardiac death were not distinguishable from a control group of the same age in terms of levels of physical activity and participation in competitive sports. Women evinced a lower level of physical activity and also a higher BMI than the control group.; Source: Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council)