Sudden Cardiac Death In Athletics


On Tuesday, there was unfortunate news that yet another athlete had passed away on the playing field. This time a soccer player in the third-division in Argentina. Last month there were two additional soccer players that suffered sudden cardiac deaths (SCD) as well.

When I hear about SCDs in athletics, the first person I think about is Hank Gathers. I never had the opportunity to watch him play live on TV, but I’ve read and heard about his NBA All-Star caliber talent. It’s unfortunate to think that these types of athletes – athletes that you think are unbreakable, unstoppable, and seem to be as invincible as Superman, have their careers shortened by such a tragic episode.

While SCDs are rare in sport, the issue is often brought to the forefront when these incidences occur.

The cause of sudden cardiac death among athletes less than 40 years of age can be predominantely ascribed to congenital heart diseases (such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or coronary anomalies. (2)

Underlying occult cardiovascular disorders are the most common cause of SCD in athletes. Unfortunately, because these disorders rarely present clinically, their initial manifestation is often a fatal event. (1)

Can SCDs be better detected prior to them happening?

Can medical personnel react in a more pragmatic manner?

I’m curious to hear any thoughts on the topic and what steps could be taken to reduce the rate of incidence or better respond to these incidences during play.


Higgins JP, Ananaba IE, Higgins CL.Phys Sudden cardiac death in young athletes: preparticipation screening for underlying cardiovascular abnormalities and approaches to prevention. Sportsmed. 2013 Feb;41(1):81-93.

Zehender M, Meinertz T, Keul J, Just H. ECG variants and cardiac arrhythmias in athletes: clinical relevance and prognostic importance. Am Heart J. 1990 Jun;119(6):1378-91.

John Grace

John Grace

Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab
John is a Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab. He earned his Master's degree from Ohio University in Coaching & Sport Science. John holds his CSCS, USAW-L1, and USATF-L1. He is the former Assistant Fitness Coach of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
John Grace


Performance Coach | @ChicagoFire | I tweet about all things sport science, coaching, training, and athlete development.
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