A new study suggests that many young athlete deaths may be caused by existing, underlying problems, reports Tucson.com. While it’s always sad to hear news of such missed potential suddenly cut short, this study may go a long way in providing better insight as to why these cases happen.
The researchers discovered that about 33% of sudden cardiac deaths were due to the heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This condition results because a part of the heart’s wall is abnormally thick, disrupting the heart’s normal functions. Unfortunately, the condition often does not present with symptoms, the study authors note.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is almost always inherited, according to the American Heart Association.
The study goes on to say that around 40% of sudden deaths in males were due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, with over 50% of the condition occurring in minority males.
Only 1% of the cases were found in minority females.
Dr. Barry Maron, lead researcher from Tufts Medical Center in Boston, says, “We have established that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in male athletes and is an underappreciated cause of sudden death in male African-American and minority athletes, but is a rare cause of death in female athletes.”
The results of the research found more than 2,400 sudden deaths between 1980 and 2011. The deaths were among competitive athletes who were engaged in 29 different sports, all of whom were between the ages of 13 and 25. Over 840 of those deaths were related to heart conditions.
Male athletes were found to be 6.5 times more likely to die from sudden cardiac arrest than females, and blacks and other minorities had death rates close to five times higher due to heart-related causes compared to white athletes. Sudden cardiac death was also found to be three times more likely among minority male and female basketball players compared to white players, and less than 5% of athletes who died had normal hearts, the study found.
Certain heart conditions were discovered to be more common in female athletes who died suddenly, including congenital defects in the heart’s arteries and conditions that caused highly dangerous irregular heartbeats.
These new findings highlight the significance of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology’s recommendations to screen not just minorities, but everyone else, for heart conditions before participation in any sport, Maron concluded.
The study was published in The American Journal of Medicine.
About Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, commonly abbreviated to HCM, is common and can affect just about anyone. It occurs if heart muscle cells enlarge thus causing the walls of the (usually) left ventricle to become thicker. While the ventricle remains the same size, the thickening of the walls can block blood flow out of the chamber.
Sometimes the wall which divides the two sides of the heart, the septum, can also thicken and push into the left ventricle. This can cause blood to flow out of the chamber thereby causing it to work harder to pump blood.
Another variation affects the heart’s mitral valve which causes blood to leak or flow backward through the valve.
Many people with HCM show no signs of having the condition. But, in rare cases sudden cardiac arrest can occur during vigorous physical activity.
Find out more about HCM at www.heart.org.