Incidence and Etiology of Sudden Cardiac Death: New Updates for Athletic Departments

Academic Article


  • Context: Sudden cardiac death (SCD) in a young athlete is a tragic event and is the leading medical cause of death in this population. The precise incidence of SCD in young athletes has been subject of debate, with studies reporting drastically different rates (1:917,000 athlete-years (AYs) to 1:3000 AYs) depending on the methodological design of the investigation or the targeted population. Evidence Acquisition: A literature search was performed in PubMed using the terms: incidence, sudden cardiac death, sudden death, sudden cardiac arrest, etiology, pathology, registry, athlete, young, children, and adolescents. Articles were reviewed for relevance and included if they contained information on the incidence of SCD in athletes or young persons up to the age of 35 years. Study Design: Clinical review. Level of Evidence: Level 5. Results: Studies of high quality and rigor consistently yield an incidence of 1:50,000 AYs in college athletes and between 1:50,000 and 1:80,000 AYs for high school athletes, with certain subgroups that appear to be at particularly high risk, including the following: men, basketball players, and African Americans. Initial reports suggest that the most common cause of SCD is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). However, more comprehensive investigations in the United States and international populations—athletes, nonathletes, and military—support that the most common finding on autopsy in young individuals with SCD is actually a structurally normal heart (autopsy-negative sudden unexplained death). Conclusion: SCD is the leading cause of death in athletes during exercise and usually results from intrinsic cardiac conditions that are triggered by the physiologic demands of vigorous exercise. Current rates of SCD appear to be at least 4 to 5 times higher than previously estimated, with men, African Americans, and male basketball players being at greatest risk. Emerging data suggest that the leading finding associated with SCD in athletes is actually a structurally normal heart (autopsy-negative sudden unexplained death).
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 1897482
  • Author List

  • Asif IM; Harmon KG
  • Start Page

  • 268
  • End Page

  • 279
  • Volume

  • 9
  • Issue

  • 3