Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletes


MIAMI, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Experts say half of all cardiovascular deaths are sudden cardiac deaths. Young athletes may be at risk and not even know it. See what one doctor is doing to reduce the risk and save more lives.

Kevin Bondar can’t ever remember a time when he wasn’t swinging a tennis racquet.

“I grew up in a tennis family, my dad and mom actually met on the tennis court,” Kevin shared.

At 13, Kevin started having chest pain when he played. Doctors found out tissue in his heart was too thick.

“I was scared after that appointment,” continued Kevin.

Officially known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, it’s the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.

Robery J. Myerburg, MD, Professor of Medicine and Physiology, American Heart Association Chair in Cardiovascular Research, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Ivanhoe, “Fifty percent of sudden cardiac deaths are first cardiac events meaning the patient did not know they had heart disease. Many of the athletes who die suddenly have underlying causes that are genetic in nature.”

Dr. Myerburg opened a clinic to spot any heart defects that may be lurking in college athletes.

“One is screening, that’s the EKG, looking for those kids that we had no idea that there might be something wrong,” explained Dr. Myerburg.

They also follow young people who know they have heart problems as well as kids who start having problems when they’re working out…like Kevin.

Dr. Myerburg said, “Talking about risk versus benefit, this is the risk you’re taking, do you want to take the risk?”

Kevin’s fear that he’d never be able to play tennis again never happened. After being treated with beta blockers, he continued his collegiate varsity career.

“I trust the care that I’m under, I trust the medication that I’m on, and I know my limits at this point. I think the screening might not bring you the results that you want to hear but results that you need to hear,” Kevin concluded.

Kevin still plays tennis every day and is planning to go to med school this fall. Dr. Myerburg says more college athletes are being screened now but there is a push for more screening in high schools. He is working with other doctors to set up a center that can funnel EKG results to schools in rural areas.

Contributors to this news report include: Janna Ross, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Judy Reich, Videographer.

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REPORT #2523

BACKGROUND: About 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day, which is an average of 1 death every 40 seconds. And, about 92.1 million American adults are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke. The general definition of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) appears to be fairly consistent, with most sources agreeing that SCA is the stopping of the heart due to a disruption of the heart’s electrical impulses, which results in inadequate oxygenated blood flow to the brain and vital organs, which causes the victim to lose consciousness. Some cardiac causes are attributed to the structure or function of the heart directly, and some non-cardiac causes are attributed to outside factors such as a blow to the chest, choking, or electrocution. Another term which tends to cloud the results is sudden cardiac death (SCD). SCD generally requires victims to have died from sudden cardiac issues, but despite its name, death does not seem to be a requirement for classification as an SCD in every case.

(Source: and

SUDDEN DEATH IN YOUNG PEOPLE: Sudden death in people younger than 35, often due to undiscovered heart defects or overlooked heart abnormalities, is rare. When these sudden deaths occur, it’s often during physical activity, such as playing a sport, and more often occurs in males than in females. Cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes, but the incidence of it is unclear. Perhaps 1 in every 50,000 sudden cardiac deaths a year occurs in young athletes. For a variety of reasons, something causes the heart to beat out of control. This abnormal heart rhythm is known as ventricular fibrillation. One specific cause of sudden cardiac death in young people is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In this usually inherited condition, the walls of the heart muscle thicken. The thickened muscle can disrupt the heart’s electrical system, leading to fast or irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Another cause is coronary artery abnormalities, which people are born with, where the heart arteries are connected abnormally. Long QT syndrome is an another inherited heart rhythm disorder that can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats, often leading to fainting, and an increased risk of sudden death.


NEW STUDY RAISES QUESTIONS: Screening exams to identify young athletes at risk for cardiac arrest might not be worthwhile, a new study suggests. “Our results indicate that sudden cardiac death during participation in competitive sports is rare, the causes are varied, and more than 80 percent of cases would not have been identified with the use of systematic (screening),” the research team, led by Dr. Paul Dorian at the University of Toronto, reported. Not only do screening programs exclude people who could safely engage in sports, the money spent on them could be better used by having defibrillators handy at competition sites and training people to use them. Dr. Ben Abella, professor of emergency medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, added “While I think screening may have an important role, this study highlights another important consequence. We need to prepare athletic trainers and venues for the event of cardiac arrest.” Dr. Dorian and his team calculated that the odds of an athlete developing a sudden arrest during competition or training was 1 in 131,600 per year, with 44 percent surviving to be discharged from the hospital.


* For More Information, Contact:

 Robert J. Myerburg, MD                                                        Kai Hill, Media Relations

University of Miami                                                                 University of Miami

(305) 243-5554                                                             , (305) 332-3189