Sudden death in healthy athletes is uncommon but, when it occurs, the primary mechanism is cardiovascular. The major cause of sudden death in the young athlete is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or related conditions characterized by left ventricular hypertrophy, aortic rupture due to cystic medial necrosis and congenital coronary artery abnormalities. In the middle-aged or older athlete, coronary artery disease is the most significant cause of sudden death. Noninvasive screening procedures are currently available that can detect most subjects at risk of sudden death. However, although some potentially lethal diseases can be excluded by a relatively simple screening program, other diseases require expensive procedures, such as echocardiography and exercise electrocardiographic stress testing. This means that the sensitivity of detecting diseases leading to sudden death increases in proportion to the financial resources that can be applied to the screening program. Thus, when a screening program designed to identify all cardiac diseases that have the potential to cause sudden death is planned by a community, school or nonprofessional athletic team, the costs will almost undoubtedly be considered prohibitive. The practicality of applying a community- or school-initiated screening program can be questioned because of the very low incidence of sudden unexpected death in young healthy individuals. It is therefore likely that comprehensive screening programs will be confined to individuals or organizations with adequate financial resources. Less expensive, limited screening can be undertaken by individuals or groups to identify some subjects at risk of sudden death during athletic competition.