Dr. Kevin Campbell: Sudden death in athletes

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Tragically last week, Raleigh-native Tyrek Coger collapsed after basketball practice at Oklahoma State and died.

RELATED: Raleigh native collapses, dies after basketball practice

When a seemingly healthy young athlete suddenly drops dead while playing sports, it’s tragic and hard to accept. Some estimate that nearly 100 young athletes die every year in the US from a preventable sudden cardiac arrest—IF their underlying disorder had been previously identified. It has been reported that Tyrek had an enlarged heart—known as hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.

1. What are the causes of sudden death in young athletes?

– Some common reasons for sudden death in athletes include congenital heart defects, thickened hearts that are called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and other genetic disorders. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the single most common cardiovascular cause of SCD (sudden cardiac death) in young athletes in the USA, accounting for 35 percent to 50 percent of cases. The most common mode of death is sudden cardiac death from a dangerous heart rhythm disorder associated with these heart defects. It is called Ventricular Tachycardia

2. How can we identify those at risk? Are there any symptoms?

– Exercise acts as a trigger for sudden cardiac death in people with cardiovascular disease. The risk for sudden death in young athletes with cardiovascular disease is 2.5 times higher than that in non-athletes. Greater than 90% of sudden cardiac death occurs during or immediately after a training session or competition

Symptoms that may suggest an athlete has an undiagnosed heart condition include, dizziness, passing out episodes, or chest pain and shortness of breath with participation. A family history of heart abnormalities or premature death in a first degree relative may also provide a clue.

3. What About EKGs?

– There is much controversy on how best to screen athletes. There are currently discrepant guidelines from the American Heart Association (endorsed by the American College of Cardiology) and the European Society of Cardiology. Both groups recommend a screening before sports participation, but the Americans favor a detailed medical history combined with a physical examination only, while the Europeans favor the addition of the 12-lead ECG.

Most college athletes undergo an EKG and if the EKG is abnormal, further screening tests such as an ultrasound called an echocardiogram may be performed in order to better identify any at risk condition.

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