May 21, 2004 -- The chest protectors worn by catchers in youth baseball may not be enough to protect them from sudden death caused by the impact of a baseball to the chest.
A new study shows the foam and hard plastic chest protectors were ineffective in protecting against chest wall impact, a common cause of sudden cardiac death among athletes.
The impact of the blow can trigger an irregular heartbeat that causes the heart to stop functioning. Researchers say the findings may help explain why 28% of the sudden cardiac death cases reported among baseball players occurred despite wearing a commercially available chest protector.
Experts say these findings should be alarming information for young athletes.
"Improvements are needed for chest wall protectors to prevent sudden cardiac death from taking the lives of young athletes," says Michael E. Cain, MD, president of the Heart Rhythm Society, in a news release.
Chest Protectors Ineffective?
In the study, presented this week at the Heart Rhythm Society's 25th Annual Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, researchers compared the effectiveness of seven commercial foam and hard plastic chest protectors in preventing irregular heartbeats caused by a 40 mile per hour blow to the chest in anesthetized animals.
Researchers found irregular heartbeats caused by the impact occurred in 12 of 38 (32%) of the blows to the chest in animals without any protection. But the frequency of irregular heart beats induced by the blows was not reduced by using the chest protectors.
Potentially life-threatening heart irregularities occurred in 25% to 49% of the impacts, depending on which chest protector was used. Researchers say none of the chest protectors differed significantly in reducing the risk of irregular heartbeat with baseball impacts compared with no protection at all.
Researchers say the findings suggest that improved design and materials may enhance protection against a chest wall blow and improve prevention of sudden cardiac death among young athletes.