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...

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Infographic
3/20/2019
Sexually Transmitted Infections

This report summarizes incidence rates of the 5 most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among active component service members of the U.S. Armed Forces during 2010–2018.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Testosterone Replacement Therapy

Infographic
3/20/2019
Testosterone Replacement Therapy

With the increasing number of testosterone deficiency diagnoses and potential health risks associated with initiation of TRT, it is important to understand the epidemiology of which U.S. service men are receiving TRT and whether these individuals have an indication for receiving treatment.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Vasectomy

Infographic
3/20/2019
Vasectomy

There are few published studies of vasectomy and vasectomy reversal among the U.S. military population. To address these gaps, the current analysis describes the overall and annual incidence rates of vasectomy among active component service men during 2000–2017 by demographic and military characteristics and by type of surgical vas isolation procedure used. In addition, the median age at incident vasectomy and the time between incident vasectomy and first vasectomy reversal are described.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Male Infertility

Infographic
3/20/2019
Male Infertility

The current report updates and expands on the findings of the previous MSMR analysis of infertility among active component service men. Specifically, the current report summarizes the frequencies, rates, temporal trends, types of infertility, and demographic and military characteristics of infertility among active component service men during 2013–2017.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Adenovirus

Infographic
3/1/2019
Adenovirus

During August–September 2016, U.S. Naval Academy clinical staff noted an increase in students presenting with acute respiratory illness (ARI). An investigation was conducted to determine the extent and cause of the outbreak.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Malaria

Infographic
3/1/2019
Malaria

Since 1999, the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report has published regular updates on the incidence of malaria among U.S. service members. The MSMR’s focus on malaria reflects both historical lessons learned about this mosquito-borne disease and the continuing threat that it poses to military operations and service members’ health.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Glaucoma

Infographic
3/1/2019
Glaucoma

This report describes an analysis using the Defense Medical Surveillance System to identify all active component service members with an incident diagnosis of glaucoma during the period between 2013 and 2017.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Infographic
1/29/2019
HPV

At the time of this report, there were no published studies of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) incidence over time among active component U.S. military personnel. Examining the incidence rates of NAFLD and their temporal trends among active component U.S. military members can provide insights into the future burden of NAFLD on the MHS.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Acute Flaccid Myelitis Case Reporting

Infographic
1/29/2019
Acute Flaccid Myelitis Case Reporting

This case highlights important clinical characteristics of acute flaccid myelitis and emphasizes the importance of including AFM in the differential diagnosis when evaluating active duty service members and Military Health System beneficiaries presenting with paralysis.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Cardiovascular disease-related medical evacuations

Infographic
1/29/2019
Cardiovascular disease-related medical evacuations

This descriptive analysis summarizes the demographic characteristics, counts, rates and temporal trends for Cardiovascular disease-related medical evacuations from the CENTCOM area of responsibility. In addition, the percentage of those evacuated who had received pre-deployment diagnoses indicating cardiovascular risk is summarized. Responses to questions regarding health status and physician referrals on the DD2795 are also summarized.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

2019 TRICARE Winter Safety Kit

Infographic
1/22/2019
TRICARE Winter Safety Kit 2019

This infographic provides tips and information about staying safe and warm during a snow storm.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Health Readiness | Preventive Health

Cold Weather Injuries

Infographic
11/20/2018
Cold Weather Injuries

This update summarizes the frequencies, incidence rates, and correlates of risk of cold injuries among members of both active and reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces during the past 5 years.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Malaria

Infographic
11/20/2018
Malaria

This report describes a cluster of 11 soldiers with vivax malaria among U.S. military personnel who trained at Dagmar North training area, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ), in the Republic of Korea (ROK) in 2015.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Rabies

Infographic
11/20/2018
Rabies

Although Germany is rabies-free for terrestrial land mammals, rabies exposure remains a concern for U.S. military personnel assigned there because of personal and military travel and deployments to rabies endemic countries. Deployments have become much more variable both in location and duration. Deployments have increasingly focused on enhancing partnerships and peacekeeping.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

DoD Flu VE

Infographic
10/26/2018
DoD Flu VE

Each season, several entities within the(DoD) perform surveillance for influenza among beneficiaries and utilize these data to perform VE analyses to estimate how well the seasonal vaccine protects against medically-attended influenza.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health | Influenza Summary and Reports
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 of 6

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.