When the Hearts of Young Athletes Fail

Study assesses risk of sudden cardiac death in competitive athletes

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TUESDAY, Dec. 2, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Young, competitive athletes suffer sudden cardiac death from underlying cardiac problems at more than double the rate of non-athletes.

So says an Italian study in the Dec. 3 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The researchers say their findings emphasize the need to screen young athletes for hidden health problems before they can participate in sports.

The study followed millions of young Italians, aged 12 to 35, from 1979 through 1999. It found the rates of sudden death were 2.3 per 100,000 athletes a year and 0.9 per 100,000 non-athletes a year. Among the athletes who died, males outnumbered females 10 to 1.

"The prevalence of sudden death in athletes was two-and-a-half times that in non-athletes. Sport activity increases the risk of sudden death because effort facilitates cardiac arrest in people bearing hidden cardiac defects," researcher Dr. Gaetano Thiene, of the University of Padua, says in a prepared statement.

"Therefore, identification of concealed diseases should be mandatory in order to rule out affected patients from sport eligibility," Thiene says.

Screening of athletes is Italy is regulated by law and has proved effective in reducing the risk of sudden death in athletes.

"I hope that also in the United States similar legislation will be introduced, in order to require pre-participation screening, including electrocardiograms and ultrasound," Thiene says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about sudden cardiac death.

SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, news release, Dec. 2, 2003

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