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Incidence of SCD in high school athletes

The risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) is small amongst high school athletes, in the range of 1:100,000 participants, according to a study1 published recently in Heart Rhythm.

Researchers examined the forensic case records of the USA National Registry of Sudden Death in Athletes, to determine the incidence and causes of cardiovascular SCDs in Minnesota competitive interscholastic sports participants.

Over a 26 year period, 1986–2011, 13 SCDs occurred in high school student-athletes related to physical exertion during competition (n = 7) or at practice (n = 6). Ages were 12–18 (median 16); each was a white male. Most common sports involved were: basketball, wrestling, or cross-country running.

Forensic examination found cardiac causes in seven: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (2); anomalous coronary artery (2); myocarditis (1); aortic stenosis (1); arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (1); 4 had structurally normal hearts (with negative toxicity). There were 4,440,161 sports participations, including 1,930,504 individual participants among 24 sports. SD risk was 1:341,551 participations and 1:137,893 participants/academic year.

Based on autopsy data, in only four athletes (31%) could the responsible cardiovascular diseases be reliably detected by history, physical examination or 12-lead ECG, equivalent to 1:1,000,000 participations.


1. Maron BJ, Haas TS, Ahluwalia A, Rutten-Ramos SC. Incidence of cardiovascular sudden deaths in Minnesota high school athletes. Heart Rhythm 2012.

Published on: December 20, 2012

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