Are You Ready to Run the Race?

Screenings may be needed to prevent sudden death in sports

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) In school, children are screened to make certain they are healthy enough to play sports, and elite athletes have complete physicals before competing in events. But what about adults participating in sports and races?

A new study found that women may be at a lower risk than men for sports-related sudden deaths. The study also found that the risk for men goes up with age.

The researchers suggest that adults competing in running, biking and swimming may benefit from a health screening before starting these physical activities.

"Talk to your doctor before starting any new physical activity."

Eloi Marijon, MD, from the Universite Paris Descartes and the Paris Cardiovascular Research Center, and colleagues conducted this study to find out how often sports-related sudden death occurred.

The researchers also wanted to see how many deaths occurred in specific sports, and whether age and sex of the participants played a role in how often the sudden deaths occurred.

The researchers defined sports-related sudden death as death that happened during a sports activity or within one hour of ending the sports activity. The activities considered included the three most common in France: cycling, jogging and swimming.

The deaths considered must have been after at least moderate physical activity, in which the person was physically expending more energy than a brisk walk. The study included cases in which the person was resuscitated (such as through CPR).

The researchers gathered information about sport-related sudden death from 2005 to 2010. The information was collected from local emergency medical services in 60 administrative districts in France. The total population of these 60 districts was about 35 million people.

The study only included information on deaths of people between 15 and 75 years of age.

The researchers also did internet monitoring of deaths reported in the news, which were confirmed by medical records.

The researchers found 775 sport-related sudden deaths in the five year period. Of these cases, 51 percent were first reported by emergency medical services while 49 percent were found through a news report and confirmed by medical records.

Most of the deaths were men. Only 5 percent of the cases were women. The average age of the women who died was 44 years, while the average age of the men was 46 years of age.

Sports-related sudden deaths were much more common among men than women. There were only 0.51 deaths per one million women, while there were 10.1 deaths per one million men.

The risk of sports-related sudden death seemed to increase greatly with age for men, but not for women.

The study also found differences in the number of sudden deaths between the sports for men, but not for women.

The researchers suggested one reason there were more sudden deaths among men, but not women, may be that there were more male participants. However, since the rate of death is per million participants of that sex, that is not likely to be the whole cause.

The researchers stated that it is possible that some men may push themselves harder in sports than some women, leading to the difference in sudden death rates.

The researchers hope these findings will inform future studies on the cause of sudden deaths in sports. They recommend additional screening prior to participation in sports activities.

The authors also noted that this study may underestimate how frequent sports-related sudden deaths occur.

"Always get a physician's approval before starting a new workout program regardless of your age. This should be done in the doctor's office preferably during a routine physical exam. Also, request an exercise stress test in the presence of a physician to help determine whether you're fit enough to start this program. It's also a good idea to continue your physical exams even if you workout regularly," said Rusty Gregory, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and dailyRx Contributing Expert. 

This study was published August 14 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study was funded by PhD research grant support from the French Federation of Cardiology and funding from the French Institute of Health and Medical Research. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 12, 2013
Last Updated:
August 15, 2013