Objectives: The goal of this study was to reliably define the incidence and causes of sudden death in college student-athletes.
Background: The frequency with which cardiovascular-related sudden death occurs in competitive athletes importantly influences considerations for pre-participation screening strategies.
Methods: We assessed databases (including autopsy reports) from both the U.S. National Registry of Sudden Death in Athletes and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (2002 to 2011).
Results: Over the 10-year study period, 182 sudden deaths occurred (age 20 ± 1.7 years; 85% male; 64% white), 52 resulting from suicide (n = 31) or drug abuse (n = 21) and 64 probably or likely attributable to cardiovascular causes (6/year). Of these 64 athletes, 47 had a confirmed post-mortem diagnosis; the most common were hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in 21 and congenital coronary anomalies in 8. The 4,052,369 athlete participations (in 30 sports over 10 years) incurred mortality risks as follows: suicide and drugs combined, 1.3/100,000 athlete participation-years (5 deaths/year); and documented cardiovascular disease, 1.2/100,000 athlete participation-years (4 deaths/year). Notably, cardiovascular deaths were 5-fold more common in African-American athletes than in white athletes (3.8 vs. 0.7/100,000 athlete participation-years; p < 0.01) but did not differ from the general population of the same age and race (p = 0.6).
Conclusions: In college student-athletes, risk of sudden death due to cardiovascular disease is relatively low, with mortality rates similar to suicide and drug abuse, but less than expected in the general population, although highest in African-American athletes. A substantial minority of confirmed cardiovascular deaths would not likely have been reliably detected by pre-participation screening with 12-lead electrocardiograms.
Keywords: ECGs; athletes; sudden death; suicide.
Copyright © 2014 American College of Cardiology Foundation. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.