Sports-related sudden cardiac death in a competitive and a noncompetitive athlete population aged 12 to 49 years: data from an unselected nationwide study in Denmark

Heart Rhythm. 2014 Oct;11(10):1673-81. doi: 10.1016/j.hrthm.2014.05.026. Epub 2014 May 23.


Background: Preparticipation screening programs have been suggested to reduce the numbers of sports-related sudden cardiac deaths (SrSCD).

Objective: The purpose of this study was to identify and characterize all SrSCD aged 12-49 years and to address the difference in incidence rates between competitive and noncompetitive athletes.

Methods: All deaths among persons aged 12-49 years from 2007-2009 were included. Death certificates were reviewed. History of previous admissions to hospital was assessed, and discharge summaries and autopsy reports were read. Sudden cardiac deaths (SCDs) and SrSCD cases were identified.

Results: In the 3-year period, there were 881 SCDs, of which we identified 44 SrSCD. In noncompetitive athletes aged 12-35 years, the incidence rate of SrSCD was 0.43 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.16-0.94) per 100,000 athlete person-years vs 2.95 (95% CI 1.95-4.30) in noncompetitive athletes aged 36-49 years. In competitive athletes, the incidence rate of SrSCD was 0.47 (95% CI 0.10-1.14) and 6.64 (95% CI 2.86-13.1) per 100,000 athlete person-years in those aged 12-35 years and 36-49 years, respectively. The incidence rate of SCD in the general population was 10.7 (95% CI 10.0-11.5) per 100.000 person-years.

Conclusion: The incidence rates of SrSCD in noncompetitive and competitive athletes are not different. The study showed an increase in the incidence rate of SrSCD in persons aged 36-49 years in both noncompetitive and competitive athletes compared to those aged 12-35 years. Importantly, SCD in the general population is much more prevalent than is SrSCD in all age groups.

Keywords: Athletes; Epidemiology; Preparticipation screening; Sudden cardiac death.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Autopsy
  • Cardiomyopathies / complications*
  • Cardiomyopathies / diagnosis
  • Cardiomyopathies / mortality
  • Cause of Death / trends
  • Child
  • Death Certificates
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / epidemiology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology*
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / pathology
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sports / statistics & numerical data*
  • Survival Rate / trends
  • Young Adult