Sickle cell trait associated with a RR of death of 37 times in national collegiate athletic association football athletes: A database with 2 million athlete-years as the denominator

Academic Article


  • Background: This study examines sickle cell trait (SCT) as a cause of sudden death in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes and explores the cost-effectiveness of different screening models. Methods: The authors reviewed the cause of all cases of sudden death in NCAA student-athletes from January 2004 through December 2008. The authors also explored the cost-effectiveness of screening for this condition in selected populations assuming that identifying athletes with SCT would prevent death. Results: There were 273 deaths and a total of 1 969 663 athlete-participant-years. Five (2%) deaths were associated with SCT. In football athletes, there were 72 (26%) deaths. Of these, 52 (72%) were due to trauma unrelated to sports activity and 20 (28%) were due to medical causes; nine deaths were cardiac (45%), five were associated with SCT (25%). Thirteen of the 20 deaths due to medical causes occurred during exertion; cardiac (6, 46%) SCT associated (5, 39%), and heat stroke unrelated to SCT (2, 15%). All deaths associated with SCT occurred in black Division I football athletes. The risk of exertional death in Division I football players with SCT was 1:827 which was 37 times higher than in athletes without SCT. The cost per case identified varied widely depending on the population screened and the price of the screening test. Conclusions: Exertional death in athletes with SCT occurs at a higher rate than previously appreciated. More research is needed to (1) understand the pathophysiology of death in SCT-positive athletes and (2) determine whether screening high-risk populations reduces mortality.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 3078110
  • Author List

  • Harmon KG; Drezner JA; Klossner D; Asif IM
  • Start Page

  • 325
  • End Page

  • 330
  • Volume

  • 46
  • Issue

  • 5