JUL 01, 2016 1:19 PM PDT

Explaining Sudden Cardiac Death in Male Minority Athletes

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
Over 840 sudden deaths in athletes were due to cardiovascular problems, out of 2400 total deaths between 1980 and 2011. Using data from the U.S. National Registry of Sudden Death in Athletes, researchers began a study to understand the trends in race and gender in sudden cardiac deaths. Focusing on a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the researchers found that male athletes, especially minority male athletes, are at the highest risk for sudden cardiac death.
 Credit: www.sfgate.com
During autopsies of athletes who died suddenly, doctors can confirm hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) as a cause, so how come athletes live their lives without knowing they have this condition? HCM is a unique form of cardiomyopathy that is not detectable by regular microscopic examination of heart muscle (myocardium). For unknown reasons, people with HCM have a thickened myocardium that disrupts the heart’s ability to pump blood, which is especially dangerous during periods of intense exercise where the body tissues are in great need of oxygen and nutrients.
The U.S. National Registry of Sudden Death in Athletes records show that of the 2400 total deaths between 1980 and 2011, ages of the deceased were between 13 and 25 years, and they were involved in 29 different sports.
The study, published in The American Journal of Medicine, significantly shows that HCM is an “under-appreciated” cause of sudden death in minority athletes, mainly African-Americans. For example, the findings exposed sudden death among minorities to be almost five times as common as in white people. For both male and female African-American basketball players, these athletes are three times as likely to die suddenly than male and female white basketball players.
In addition to the disparity between minority athletes and white athletes, the researchers found a significant difference in sudden cardiac deaths between males and females in general. Of the 840 athletes from the National Registry who were diagnosed with cardiovascular problems at autopsy, males were four times as common than females. In fact, HCM was found to account for almost 40 percent of all male sudden deaths.
For females, other explanations existed for sudden cardiac deaths, such as congenital coronary artery anomalies, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, and clinically diagnosed long-QT syndrome.
All of the trends in sudden cardiac death depicted by the findings from the study give researchers and the rest of the scientific and medical community a clearer image of which athletes are at an especially high risk for sudden death. Hopefully this knowledge and future studies will lead to the reduction of sudden cardiac deaths in athletes with better intervention and prevention programs.

Sources: Elsevier Health Sciences, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association
About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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