Back to Top Skip to main content

Sudden cardiac death in young athletes

High school basketball requires skill and rigorous training. In rare but highly publicized cases, it can also bring cardiac issues to the surface. (U.S. Army photo by Chuck Gannon) High school basketball requires skill and rigorous training. In rare but highly publicized cases, it can also bring cardiac issues to the surface. (U.S. Army photo by Chuck Gannon)

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Health Readiness | Heart Health | Preventive Health

In January, a student athlete at Spartanburg High School in South Carolina collapsed after a basketball game against rival Riverside. Two coaches performed CPR and used a defibrillator until paramedics arrived. The teenager survived. Less than a month earlier at John Bowne High School in Flushing, Queens, New York, a student athlete, who his mother described as “healthy as you could imagine” collapsed during basketball practice. Sadly, coaches were unable to revive him. It was later determined Lenny Pierre, the New York student, had a major blood vessel in his heart that was in an abnormal location, resulting in sudden cardiac arrest. He was only 16.

Sudden cardiac events can occur in seemingly healthy young people in their teens or twenties, including young servicemembers. “Being in the military, you are signing yourself up for an active lifestyle, and I think most people want that,” said Army Lt. Col. Erik Johnson, a pediatric cardiologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “I think that’s encouraged in dependents as well. Any accurate information is helpful in making sure families know what to look for in their kids so they get them to appropriate providers if necessary.”

Johnson said there are several possible causes of sudden cardiac death in young competitive athletes, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM. “It is actually fairly common in the general population,” said Johnson. “About 1 in 500 people have this, and it accounts for about a third of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.”

While HCM is hereditary, other cardiac conditions are not, such as the coronary artery abnormality that caused Lenny Pierre’s death. “A coronary artery that doesn’t come off where it normally should causes another 15 to 20 percent of sudden cardiac death,” said Johnson. “Overall, more than 50 percent of the cases of sudden cardiac death in young athletes are caused by either HCM or coronary artery abnormalities.”

Heart problems in young people often go undetected, leaving providers to look for clues. “A provider could look at a child and suspect Marfan syndrome,” said Johnson. According to the National Institutes of Health, Marfan syndrome is a disorder that affects the connective tissue and may result in abnormalities such as dilation and rupture of the aorta, a catastrophic and often fatal event. Johnson added that a diagnosis of Marfan syndrome would mean exercise restrictions for the child.

Other causes of sudden cardiac issues in athletes include arrhythmias, myocarditis, and congenital heart disease. Arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats (too fast or too slow) which could be genetic or the result of a direct blow to the chest by a batted ball or an on-field collision. Myocarditis is an infection of the muscle of the heart that affects the heart’s ability to pump well. Congenital heart disease encompasses a number of structural problems of the heart that a child may be born with.

Johnson urges parents of young athletes and their coaches to be aware of signs and symptoms that indicate the need to see a provider before a catastrophic event. These include:

  • Chest pain with exertion every time a child tries to run or participate in some other kind of aerobic activity
  • Irregular heartbeat, where a child complains that the heart is beating too fast or too slow, or is skipping beats
  • Loss of consciousness during exercise
  • Decreased exercise tolerance, where a child feels fatigued with a level of exercise that was previously routine

“The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have put out guidelines looking at sports participation in patients who have [diagnosed] cardiac disease,” said Johnson. The guidelines, updated in 2015, list recommendations and restrictions for competitive athletes who engage in “vigorous training” while living with 15 different classifications of heart conditions.

While this information may be alarming, parents just need to be vigilant. Cases of sudden cardiac death in young athletes are exceedingly rare, with about 1 occurrence in 80,000 – 100,000 children per year, according to Johnson. In an otherwise healthy child, there is no need to place restrictions on activities or sports due to the remote possibility that something bad could happen.

There is clear evidence that activity like sports participation improves both the physical and mental health of children. “Some of the best screening we can do is to ask, ‘do they have symptoms?’ said Johnson. “The answers can clue you into looking deeper into some of these uncommon things.” Uncommon things that could save a life.

You also may be interested in...

Pararescue medics rehearse for unique mission

Article
11/7/2018
Airmen from the 920th Rescue Wing revalidate their response time in the event of a catastrophic, life-threatening occurrence within the capsule of a human space flight launch at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. This exercise marked the first time that the Department of Defense, NASA and commercial providers have exercised this type of event utilizing twelve live patients and the full array of air assets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kelly Goonan)

The 920th RQW is ready to support the next era of human space flight

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

DoD, FDA working together to benefit warfighters

Article
11/2/2018
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner (left) and Mr. Thomas McCaffery, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) (right), congratulate on another following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the DoD and the FDA.  The ceremony acknowledges the existing partnership and the future collaboration on accessing life-saving medical products for U.S. troops on the battlefield.

DoD and FDA leaders signed a memorandum of understanding to foster and prioritize the development of critical medical products

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Women’s Health: Taking time for yourself

Article
10/16/2018
Navy Lt. Jessica Miller, a nurse at Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s Obstetrics/Gynecology Clinic, discusses cervical cancer screenings with a patient. Starting at age 21, women should get a Pap test every three years. After turning 30, women have a choice. Get a Pap test every three years, or get a Pap and human papillomavirus (HPV) test every five years. Women should talk with their doctor about options. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

The top two causes of death for women are heart disease and cancer

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Women's Health

USNS Comfort conducts mass casualty training exercise

Article
10/15/2018
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Lammers, an anesthesiologist assigned to the hospital ship USNS Comfort, practices patient transfer during a mass casualty exercise. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph DeLuco)

A mass casualty event, by nature, is chaotic

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

Mammograms recommended for early detection of breast cancer

Article
10/4/2018
Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman Naomi Perez, a certified mammogram technician, conducts a mammogram for a patient at Naval Hospital Pensacola. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray procedure used to detect the early stages of breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and NHP is taking the opportunity to educate patients about the dangers of breast cancer and the importance of getting checked. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brannon Deugan)

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray used to detect the early stages of breast cancer

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Women's Health

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: Empowering patients

Article
9/28/2018
During September, the Military Health System is encouraging men to learn more about prostate cancer. Patients can discuss with their providers the risks and benefits of a prostate-specific antigen blood test, also known as a PSA test. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

For September’s Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, the Military Health System is encouraging men to learn more about the disease

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Men's Health

Say ‘Shoo’ to the flu with TRICARE

Article
9/26/2018
Amanda LaFountain, a licensed practical nurse, administers the flu shot to a Soldier. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Marshall Metzger)

Flu viruses are serious, contagious viruses that can lead to hospitalization or even death

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Immunization Healthcare | Public Health

Spine surgery team adds capability, improves readiness

Article
9/11/2018
Air Force Col. (Dr.) Edward Anderson, 99th Medical Group orthopedic spine surgeon, performs a lumbar microdiscectomy surgery at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. A lumbar microdiscectomy surgery is performed to remove a portion of a herniated disc in the lower back. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew D. Sarver)

The benefits of performing complex surgeries in the orthopedic spine clinic go far beyond the operating room

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

Swimming for good health: Just go with the flow

Article
9/6/2018
A midshipman participates in the 500-yard swim portion of a physical screening test as part of the explosive ordnance disposal summer cruise at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jeff Atherton)

Aquatic exercise is a low-impact alternative to running

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Physical Activity

Proper sleep hygiene as a force multiplier

Article
9/5/2018
The fact that properly resting personnel has multiple benefits across the spectrum of human performance and military readiness is undisputed. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

Sleep is cheap; it costs nothing to rest troops properly, with proven, immediately realized returns

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Army researchers develop tasty, healthy performance bar

Article
9/4/2018
Two U.S. Army soldiers eat a version of the Performance Readiness Bar. USARIEM researchers will monitor them to test whether the bar affects bone density. (U.S. Army photo by Mr. David Kamm)

Researchers aren’t working to provide recruits and soldiers with something that only tastes good; it has to make sense for their nutrition

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Nutrition

Guard Soldier uses medical skills to save boy’s life

Article
8/31/2018
New York Army National Guard Spc. Nicole McKenzie, shown here in a personal photo, used her combat life-saving skills to help save the life of a 12-year-old boy who jumped from an overpass in Yonkers, New York, Aug. 3, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

McKenzie just completed combat life-saving training and immediately began to triage the injuries the boy sustained in the fall

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Reduce your risk of running and sports injuries

Article
8/20/2018
More than 80 percent of recruit injuries occur to lower body. (Image courtesy Army Public Health Center)

Running is the number one cause of Soldier injuries

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health

Battlespace acoustics branch protects hearing, human performance

Article
8/17/2018
Dr. Eric Thompson, a research engineer with the Warfighter Interface Division, Battlespace Acoustics Branch, part of the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, sits inside their Auditory Localization Facility. The facility allows researchers to test 3-D audio software that spatially separates sound cues to mimic real-life human audio capabilities. The application allows operators in complex communication environments with multiple talking voices to significantly improve voice intelligibility and communication effectiveness. The technology, which consists primarily of software and stereo headphones, has potential low-cost, high-value application for both aviation and ground command and control communication systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Richard Eldridge)

We look at how noise is being generated, how it propagates, and what that means for Airmen in the field

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Hearing Loss

Heat rash is common when the mercury climbs

Article
8/14/2018
Heat rash is common in the warm summer months, but military personnel and amputees may be especially at risk. (Courtesy photo)

Anyone can be affected, including children and adults

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Public Health
<< < ... 6 7 8 > >> 
Showing results 76 - 90 Page 6 of 8

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing | Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.