Sudden cardiac death in athletes and the value of cardiovascular magnetic resonance

Eur J Clin Invest. 2018 Jul;48(7):e12955. doi: 10.1111/eci.12955. Epub 2018 Jun 4.


Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is the nontraumatic death, due to loss of heart function that occurs suddenly and unexpectedly within 6 hours of a previously normal state of health. It is related to intense competitive sports promoting ventricular tachycardia (VT)/ventricular fibrillation (VF) in the presence of underlying abnormal substrate. A serial evaluation of cardiac physiologic changes taking place during training will allow the better understanding of athlete's heart and will facilitate its discrimination from other grey-zone cardiomyopathies. According to the ESC recommendations, a pre-participation evaluation should include medical history, physical examination as well as a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG). Additional tests, such as echocardiography, 24-hours Holter monitoring, stress testing and cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) should be requested upon positive findings at the initial evaluation. Cardiovascular magnetic resonance can be of great value in the differential diagnosis between various cardiomyopathies including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), left ventricle noncompaction cardiomyopathy (LVNC) and athlete's heart. This is due to its great versatility that can provide reliable and reproducible anatomical, functional and tissue characterization information, which are operator and acoustic window independent.

Keywords: cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging; competitive athletes; sudden death.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Cardiomegaly, Exercise-Induced / physiology
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic / diagnosis*
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / prevention & control*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography / standards
  • Male
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sports / physiology
  • Tachycardia, Ventricular / pathology
  • Ventricular Fibrillation / pathology