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...

HPV vaccine now recommended for those up to age 45

Article
1/14/2020
https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/hpv/ Recent CDC and FDA guidance recommends that men and women up to 45 years of age get vaccinated to protect against the Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and can cause certain cancers and genital warts. More than 14 million new HPV infections occur in the U.S. each year, and about 80 percent of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. (National Foundation for Infectious Diseases image)

HPV shot protects against a host of diseases in men, women

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Health Readiness | Preventive Health | Men's Health | Women's Health | Immunization Healthcare | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Vaccine Recommendations

U.S. Transportation Command: DoD’s manager for global patient movement

Article
1/9/2020
An ambulance bus backs up to the Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III as Airmen prepare to unload patients at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The bus transports the ill and/or injured to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. JBA and Travis Air Force Base, California, serve as the primary military entry points or hubs for patient distribution within the continental United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karina Luis)

On a weekly basis, USTRANSCOM moves up to 40 patients from overseas to CONUS

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

Joint Chiefs say mind, body, spirit all part of Total Force Fitness

Article
1/7/2020
Image of a Marine climbing a rope ladder

2020 focus on factors making service members, families “resilient”

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Operation Live Well

Navy Medicine demonstrates Virtual Health options to Africa

Article
1/6/2020
Air Force Staff Sgt. Danny Lim practices conducting a throat examination on Army Sgt. Harvey Drayton at Chabelley Airfield, Djibouti. Drayton and Lim were introduced to the Telehealth In A Bag system during a recent visit that included personnel from Regional Health Command Europe's virtual health team. (U.S. Army photo by Russell Toof)

Djibouti hosts the largest U.S. American military base on the African continent

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

Air Force studies fatigue, sleep to enhance readiness

Article
12/31/2019
An Air Force Airman sleeps inside a C-17 Globemaster III during a flight over an undisclosed location in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration)

Good sleep habits are closely related to overall health and performance

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Sleep

Achievements in 2019 provide strong foundation for year ahead

Article
12/23/2019
A Year in Review: Year of Military Health 2019

Dedication, commitment to mission praised as changes continue

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Health Program | MHS GENESIS | Research and Innovation | Preventive Health | MHS Transformation

Guard and Reserve crucial to CCATT expansion

Article
12/20/2019
Air Force Maj. Lori Wyatt, a Critical Care Air Transport Team nurse, assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, West Virginia, assembles a gurney during a casualty evacuation training at the Raleigh County Memorial Airport. The Air Force is increasing the number of CCATTs to support future readiness requirements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. De-Juan Haley)

The Guard and Reserve support the bulk of aeromedical evacuation, CCATT capabilities

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Air Force, Army medics save groom

Article
12/19/2019
Airmen from the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron simulate life-saving procedures to a training manikin onboard a KC-135 Stratotanker during an exercise out of Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 18th AES maintains a forward operating presence, and was instrumental in saving an Airman’s life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Seefeldt)

NCO’s first aeromedical evacuation mission was definitely challenging

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

McCaffery AMSUS Remarks 2019

Publication
12/5/2019

McCaffery statements made during the 2019 annual meeting of AMSUS

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

McCaffery calls for military medical strategic framework for warfighting readiness

Article
12/5/2019
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Tom McCaffery speaks on Thursday at the annual meeting of AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals. McCaffery announced to the nearly 2,000 conference attendees that he has asked the Military Health System's senior leadership to develop and codify a formal strategic framework to guide integrating and optimizing all MHS components to meet his vision. (MHS photo)

'New reality' includes tight synchronization, expanding partnerships

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | MHS Transformation

MSMR Vol. 26 No. 12 - December 2019

Report
12/1/2019

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Editorial: Mitigating the risk of disease from tick-borne encephalitis in U.S. military populations; Tick-borne encephalitis surveillance in U.S. military service members and beneficiaries, 2006–2018; Case report: Tick-borne encephalitis virus infection in beneficiaries of the U.S. military healthcare system in southern Germany; Update: Cold weather injuries, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2014–June 2019

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

Military medical reform is an opportunity to make trauma care better

Article
11/21/2019
Army Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, U.S. Army Surgeon General, spoke to surgeons at the Defense Committee on Trauma and Committees on Surgical and En Route Combat Casualty Care Conference held in San Antonio, Texas, on November 13. He spoke about the plans for current and future trauma and surgical initiatives within Army Medicine and that surgeons must be involved in improving trauma care during this time of military medical reform. (U.S. Army Image by Rebecca Westfall)

There is an opportunity to bring real change to how the military handles combat trauma care

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Antibiotic resistance a serious threat that's growing, CDC warns

Article
11/15/2019
A bacteriology researcher at the Institute of Medical Research swabs an isolated sample of streptococcus pneumonia in Goroka, Papua New Guinea, June 4, 2015. The researcher is testing the bacteria to determine if the strain has sensitivity to antibiotics or if it is resistant.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Morris/Released)

Newly published paper outlines issue, offers possible solutions

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Public Health

Preventing seasonal influenza

Article
11/13/2019
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jaqueline Mbugua and members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Medical Group traveled to the Roxy Theater on Joint Base Cape Cod to provide flu shots to Airmen Nov. 2, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Swanson).

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Immunization Healthcare | Immunizations

The art of moulage

Article
11/6/2019
Combat Medic Training program students at the Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston conduct an emergency cricothyrotomy on a “casualty” during simulation training. The “wounded” manikin also presents with facial burns that were created with moulage techniques. (DoD photo by Lisa Braun)

METC combat medic manikins rock realistic wounds

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 46

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.