Cardiac Sudden Death

  • Background:

    Cardiac sudden death in athletes is usually caused by previously unsuspected heart disease.  Intense activity is likely to increase the risk for sudden cardiac death (or disease progression) in trained athletes with clinically important underlying structural heart disease. 

    The majority of cardiac sudden deaths are due to several heart malformations present at birth.  Some examples include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy  (enlarged heart), heart valve disorders, malformation of coronary arteries, and heart beat abnormalities (heart murmur).  About 1 in 200,000 athletes die of cardiac sudden death each year nationally.

    Some signs and symptoms the athlete should look for are chest pain/discomfort, fainting (syncope), or unexplained and unexpected shortness of breath.  The presence of a heart murmur, high systemic blood pressure, family history of sudden death, or disability from heart conditions in relatives younger than 50 years old are also conditions for potential concern.  If any of these signs are present, a physician shall be seen before participating in sports.

    Recommendations for Physical Examinations:

    Prevention of cardiac sudden death requires a joint effort among the physician, certified athletic trainer, athlete, parent, coach and school administration.  The American Heart Association recommends that high school athletes have a complete physical examination every two years.  Additionally, a complete and careful personal and family history is recommended.

    The current procedures for athletic pre-participation for Parma City Schools are beyond the recommendations of the American Heart Association.  Physical exams are required annually and every potential athlete must complete a personal/family history questionnaire annually, which includes questions specifically addressing cardiac sudden death risks.

    The American Heart Association’s recommendation is clear.  When cardiovascular abnormalities are identified or suspected, the athlete should be referred to a cardiovascular specialist for further evaluation and/or confirmation of any cardiac condition.

    Action Steps:

    Parents/Athletes:  (See Pre-Participation Physical Examination Form)

    Dale Winsberg 
    Director of Therapy Services
    Pinnacle Performance Center 
    Parma Community General Hospital

    David Allenick
    Athletics Supervisor
    Parma City School District


    Completely and carefully fill out the Personal and Family Medical History Section.  (See the school Athletic Director for the form.)

    Submit the above document to your family physician or cardiovascular specialist if you are concerned with the risks of cardiac sudden death by participating in athletics.

    Note:  Have the physician go over this history with you and your student-athlete.

    Any athlete who does not have proper medical clearance (physical examination) for athletic participation on file will not be allowed to participate.  NO EXCEPTIONS WILL BE MADE REGARDING THIS REQUIRED DOCUMENT.

    The Sports Medicine Staff from Parma Hospital’s Sports Medicine Program are available to answer your questions at any time.  Please call to request more information at 440-743-4025.  It is necessary that we all work toward the prevention of potential tragedies for our student-athletes.