Sudden death: what causes it and how to prevent it

Every athlete who plays sports on a regular basis should undergo periodic monitoring. The fundamental tests are an electrocardiogram, a stress test and an echocardiogram, which are performed by a Cardiology specialist.

In the vast majority of cases, an adequate clinical history and physical examination, together with the aforementioned tests, can detect heart diseases that predispose to sudden death related to sports.

Causes of sudden death

Sudden death is the sudden and unexpected onset of cardiac arrest in a person who is apparently healthy and well. It is usually due to ventricular fibrillation, a malignant cardiac arrhythmia.

This arrhythmia produces chaotic cardiac electrical activity that is unable to generate an effective heartbeat.

Ventricular fibrillation is very rare in healthy hearts. In people over 35 years of age, the most frequent cause is acute myocardial infarction. In young people it is usually related to previous cardiac diseases that can affect both the heart muscle (cardiomyopathies, among which the most frequently associated is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) and the electrical activity of the heart (channelopathy, such as Brugada syndrome or long QT syndrome).

How to avoid sudden death

The vast majority of patients who suffer sudden death and do not receive medical attention die within minutes. It is therefore essential to notify emergency services immediately and to start effective cardiopulmonary resuscitation as soon as possible.