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Heart Disease Health Center

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Sudden Death in Athletes May Sometimes Be Prevented


Because most conditions that cause sudden death are hereditary, Smith says he relies heavily on an athlete's family history and historical profile. "You'll find more things with the history than you will with the physical exam," he tells WebMD.

Even screening isn't an ideal safety net, Smith says. For example, he says, Italy has a very thorough screening program for its young competitive athletes.

"They're a small country," he says. "They've got some governmental support and some regulation to do those kinds of things. I think that's what dictates why they have such an extensive screening program. Even so, with that said, they still have cases of sudden deaths in athletes. ? The United States is so much larger, and a little less than a fourth of those cases came out of Italy.

"It goes to show you that even the best screening programs are not going to be absolute in prevention."

Vital Information:

  • The major causes of sudden death on the athletic field are concealed, often very rare, diseases of the heart that are difficult to diagnose.
  • A new study shows that athletes who experience chest pains or loss of consciousness may undergo an echocardiogram to rule out a defect of a coronary artery, one potential cause of sudden death.
  • A family history may be the most useful tool, because most conditions that cause sudden death are hereditary.
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