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Sudden Death in Athletes Rare, But Increasing

Registry data shows incidence of sudden death doubled between 1980-1993 and 1994-2006

TUESDAY, Feb. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Sudden death in competitive athletes -- a rare but significant event -- is primarily due to cardiovascular disease, which lends support to the use of cardiovascular screening prior to participation in athletic training, according to research published online Feb. 16 in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Barry J. Maron, M.D., of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, and colleagues analyzed a registry of 1,866 athletes who either experienced sudden death or survived a cardiac arrest between 1980 and 2006. The average athlete age was 19 years.

Incidents approximately doubled from 1980-1993 to 1994-2006 (from 31 percent to 69 percent), and were found to increase at a rate of 6 percent annually, the researchers report. An average of 66 deaths occurred per year over the most recent six years. Over half of sudden deaths were due to cardiovascular disease (56 percent), but blunt trauma, heart rhythm disruption and heat stroke were also responsible, the authors note. The majority (82 percent) of cardiovascular-related deaths occurred during training or competition, and most (89 percent) were males, the investigators found.

"Indeed, such deaths constitute a unique medical issue with substantial societal impact given the youthful age and apparent good general health of the victims and are also directly relevant to the controversy concerning the most efficacious and practical approach to pre-participation cardiovascular screening of large populations of athletes," the authors write.

Maron discloses financial relationships with the medical industry.

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