Clinical profile of commotio cordis: an under appreciated cause of sudden death in the young during sports and other activities

J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 1999 Jan;10(1):114-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-8167.1999.tb00648.x.


Not particularly well recognized are athletic field catastrophes in which virtually instantaneous cardiac arrest is produced by nonpenetrating chest blows in the absence of heart disease or identifiable morphologic injury to the chest wall or heart (commotio cordis). To better characterize the clinical profile of this syndrome, we have assembled 70 cases, including 34 occurring during organized competitive athletics and 36 others that occurred during informal recreational sports at home, school or the playground, or during nonsporting activities. Ages were 2 to 38 (mean age: 12) with 70% < 16 years old. Most common sports involved were youth baseball (n = 40), softball (n = 7), and ice hockey (n = 7). Seven (10%) of the 70 commotio cordis victims, including six with documented ventricular fibrillation, have survived the consequences of their chest blow. Eleven of the events (16%) occurred despite the presence of chest padding believed to be potentially protective. Four victims experienced modest chest blows while in circumstances completely unrelated to sports activities; three of the four individuals who delivered these blows were ultimately convicted of criminal acts within the justice system. An experimental model of low-energy chest wall impact demonstrates that commotio cordis events are due largely to the exquisite timing of blows during a narrow window within the repolarization phase of the cardiac cycle, 15 to 30 msec prior to the peak of the T wave.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletic Injuries / complications*
  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology
  • Baseball / injuries
  • Cause of Death
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Recreation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate
  • Thoracic Injuries / complications*
  • Thoracic Injuries / epidemiology
  • Thoracic Injuries / physiopathology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Ventricular Fibrillation / epidemiology
  • Ventricular Fibrillation / etiology*
  • Ventricular Fibrillation / physiopathology
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / complications*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / epidemiology
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / physiopathology