October 08, 2019
When tragedy strikes: Preventing sudden cardiac death in student-athletes
A competitive athlete dies every three days, often of cardiac arrest
By Dr. David L. Fischman and Dr. Michael P. Savage, Thomas Jefferson University
With the end of summer and the beginning of a new academic year, tens of thousands of students will be taking to the athletic fields and gymnasiums. An estimated 55% of high school students, or nearly eight million students, will participate in a competitive sport. Almost 500,000 students will do so at the college level. The sudden death of a student athlete is tragic and fraught with intense emotion only heightened by the media attention it generates.
Each year more than 350,000 individuals die as a result of sudden cardiac death, and although it is often thought of a problem with older adults, it is the most common cause of death in the student-athlete. Although it is difficult to get a precise number of sudden cardiac deaths, it is estimated that one competitive athlete dies suddenly every three days. Most of these victims are male with more than half being black athletes. More than two-thirds participate in either basketball or football, and the average age of death is 17.5 years.