Background: Reports on the incidence and causes of sudden cardiac death among young athletes have relied largely on estimated rates of participation and varied methods of reporting. We sought to investigate the incidence and causes of sudden cardiac death among adolescent soccer players in the United Kingdom.
Methods: From 1996 through 2016, we screened 11,168 adolescent athletes with a mean (±SD) age of 16.4±1.2 years (95% of whom were male) in the English Football Association (FA) cardiac screening program, which consisted of a health questionnaire, physical examination, electrocardiography, and echocardiography. The FA registry was interrogated to identify sudden cardiac deaths, which were confirmed with autopsy reports.
Results: During screening, 42 athletes (0.38%) were found to have cardiac disorders that are associated with sudden cardiac death. A further 225 athletes (2%) with congenital or valvular abnormalities were identified. After screening, there were 23 deaths from any cause, of which 8 (35%) were sudden deaths attributed to cardiac disease. Cardiomyopathy accounted for 7 of 8 sudden cardiac deaths (88%). Six athletes (75%) with sudden cardiac death had had normal cardiac screening results. The mean time between screening and sudden cardiac death was 6.8 years. On the basis of a total of 118,351 person-years, the incidence of sudden cardiac death among previously screened adolescent soccer players was 1 per 14,794 person-years (6.8 per 100,000 athletes).
Conclusions: Diseases that are associated with sudden cardiac death were identified in 0.38% of adolescent soccer players in a cohort that underwent cardiovascular screening. The incidence of sudden cardiac death was 1 per 14,794 person-years, or 6.8 per 100,000 athletes; most of these deaths were due to cardiomyopathies that had not been detected on screening. (Funded by the English Football Association and others.).