Basketball Players Suffer the Highest Rate of Sudden Cardiac Death Among Student Athletes
Experts say the results are higher than they had expected and recommend increased screening of players to reduce the death rate.
About 400,000 students in the United States, ages 17 to 23, participate in NCAA-sanctioned sports.
Dr. Kimberly Harmon, a sports medicine specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and her colleagues used newspaper reports, insurance claims and data from the National Collegiate Athletic Assn., the governing body for college athletics, to track deaths among those athletes from 2004 to 2008.
In the study, the researchers found that 273 deaths occurred from all causes, and 29 percent of those were from medical causes. Forty-five of the deaths were cardiovascular-related sudden deaths.
However, they found that cardiovascular death varied by sport. The highest rate, by far, was in Division 1 basketball, with 1 death per 3,146 players per year, followed by lacrosse with 1 death in 23,357 players. Cross-country was the lowest, with 2 death in 41,695 players.
Males (1 in 33,134) were more than twice as likely to die as females (1 in 76,696), while blacks (1 in 17,696) were much more likely to die than whites (1 in 58,653).
Some experts, as well as the International Olympic Committee, advocate for EKG screening of all athletes before they are allowed to play sports, but schools argue that the tests are too costly and unwieldy. On average, 1 in every 6 EKGs yields a false positive.
On the basis of her results, Harmon said it would be beneficial, at least, to conduct more tests among athletes in the highest risk sports, such as basketball.
The study was published in the journal Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Assn.