Incidence of sudden cardiac arrest in high school student athletes on school campus

Heart Rhythm. 2014 Jul;11(7):1190-4. doi: 10.1016/j.hrthm.2014.04.017. Epub 2014 Apr 13.


Background: An accurate estimate of the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in high school student athletes is needed to guide prevention strategies.

Objective: To prospectively investigate SCA rates in high school student athletes vs student nonathletes.

Methods: A prospective observational study of 2149 US high schools participating in the National Registry for AED Use in Sports was conducted from August 2009 to July 2011. Schools were contacted quarterly to collect and review SCA cases occurring on school campus. Ninety-five percent (2045) of the schools confirmed participation for the entire 2-year period.

Results: The average numbers of total students and student athletes per school were 963 and 367, respectively, providing more than 4.1 million total student-years and more than 1.5 million student athlete-years of surveillance. Twenty-six cases of SCA occurred in students, including 18 cases in student athletes-all during exercise. The incidence of SCA in all students was 0.63 per 100,000; in student athletes, 1.14 per 100,000; and in student nonathletes, 0.31 per 100,000. The relative risk of SCA in student athletes vs nonathletes was 3.65 (95% confidence interval 1.6-8.4; P < .01). Sixteen of 18 (89%) student athletes with SCA were boys, resulting in an incidence of 1.73 per 100,000 in boys and 0.31 per 100,000 in girls and a relative risk in male compared with female student athletes of 5.65 (95% confidence interval 1.3-24.6; P < .01).

Conclusion: The incidence of SCA in high school student athletes is higher than previous estimates and may justify more advanced cardiac screening and improved emergency planning in schools.

Keywords: Automated external defibrillator; Exercise; Screening; Sports; Sudden cardiac death; Young athlete.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Registries
  • Risk Assessment
  • Schools
  • Students