Pathologic and electrocardiographic findings in sudden cardiac death in racehorses

J Vet Med Sci. 1999 Aug;61(8):921-8. doi: 10.1292/jvms.61.921.


Five racehorses in apparently normal condition succumbed to sudden cardiac death (SCD) during or shortly after intensive training exercise. Cardiopathologic examination was performed. In 1 of the 5 horses, the use of an electrocardiogram (ECG) recording taken continuously for 440 sec enabled us to analyze some of the arrhythmias in the terminal event of SCD. The ECG tracing exhibited the R-on-T phenomenon following a pair of ventricular premature contractions (VPCs). The phenomenon rapidly degenerated into ventricular fibrillation, which led to cardiac arrest. In all 5 horses cardiopathologic examination revealed the following lesions: (i) foci of myocardial fibrosis in the right atrium located close to the sinoatrial (SA) node, (ii) fibrotic and/or fibroplastic changes in the upper portion of the interventricular septum, including the atrioventricular (AV) conduction system, and (iii) arterio- and arteriolosclerosis of the SA and AV node vessels. Pathogenetically, the process by which the focal lesions of myocardial ischemia secondary to vascular sclerosis progressed into fibrosis and/or fibroplasia could play a major role in the genesis of arrhythmias. Presumably the fibrotic and/or fibroplastic changes in the area of the AV bundle and its bundle branches are closely related to the onset of fatal ventricular arrhythmias such as VPCs, deteriorating into ventricular fibrillation. SCD in training and racing Thoroughbred horses appears to be due to arrhythmia.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / veterinary*
  • Electrocardiography / veterinary
  • Fibrosis / pathology
  • Fibrosis / veterinary
  • Horse Diseases / pathology*
  • Horses
  • Myocardium / pathology