Introduction and objectives: Sudden death during sports activities has a profound impact on relatives, society, and athletes. Medical screening programs usually fail to prevent sudden death. We report the characteristics of a series of sudden deaths that occurred during sports in Spain.
Methods: We reviewed cases of sudden death that occurred during sports activities from 1995 to 2001 in the registries of the Institute of Toxicology of Madrid, Spain (Ministry of Justice).
Results: The series included 61 cases ranging in age from 11 to 65 years (average 31.9 14.2), 59 males and 2 females. The sports most frequently involved were cycling (21), football (13), and gymnastics (5). The causes of death were atheromatous coronary disease: 25 (40.9%) (23 over 30 years); arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy: 10 (16.3%) (7 under 30 years); hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: 4 (6.5%); idiopathic left ventricular hypertrophy: 3 (4.9%); postmyocarditis myocardial fibrosis: 2 (3.2%); dilated cardiomyopathy: 1 (1.6%); congenital anomalies in the origin of the coronary arteries: 2 (3.2%); aortic valve disease: 2 (3.2%); and others: 2 (3.2%). In 10 cases (16.3%) (all under 30), the cause of death was undetermined. In 16 cases (26.2%) there was a known pathological antecedent. The disease responsible for death had been diagnosed in only three cases.
Conclusions: Arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy and severe left ventricular hypertrophy were the most common causes of sports-related death in persons under the age of 30. In 30% the cause of death was undetermined. Atheromatous coronary disease was prevalent over the age of 30 years and associated with cycling. Medical screening programs actually in use fail to detect a significant proportion of athletes at risk for sudden death.