Objective: To estimate the incidence of sport-related sudden cardiac death due to ischaemic heart disease (IHD) in competitive young Aboriginal sportsmen.
Setting: Northern Territory (NT), 1982-1996.
Design: Retrospective case series with cases identified from Australian Bureau of Statistics cause-of-death listings and NT coronial autopsy records.
Main outcome measures: Circumstances and incidence of sport-related sudden cardiac deaths due to IHD; autopsy findings.
Results: Between 1982 and 1996, there were eight sudden cardiac deaths due to IHD and related to sporting activity among Aboriginal sportsmen aged 15-37 years in the NT. Six were associated with games of Australian (rules) football. All occurred in the Top End of the NT in the wet season, and all occurred after the first half, or within an hour of, a game. Four of the players had macrosopic myocardial abnormalities (hypertrophy or previous infarcts) on autopsy. The estimated incidence of IHD-related sudden cardiac death among Aboriginal Australian football players in the NT was 19-24 per 100,000 player-years, compared with 0.54 per 100,000 player-years among Australian rules footballers of similar ages in Victoria.
Conclusions: Incidence of sudden cardiac death attributable to underlying IHD was extremely high among young NT Aboriginal Australian footballers. Prevention will best be achieved by funding culturally appropriate long-term strategies to reduce the incidence of IHD. However, in the short-term, community-controlled programs with education of athletes, heat-stress reduction strategies, and cardiovascular screening should reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac death in sport.