As its name implies, sudden cardiac death is sudden and unexpected, with death occurring within minutes after collapse. It is more common in older folks with serious heart problems, but it can also happen to young and healthy people with no sign of heart disease.
Nonetheless, sudden cardiac death is not common in athletes at all, according to research conducted in United States.
Besides hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, scarring of heart and serious blockage of a few blood vessels supplying blood to the heart that can make athletes die instantly, there are also other rare causes including congenital abnormalities, congenital long QT syndrome, arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, and commotion cordis.
– Congenital Abnormalities
These abnormalities are due to the heart arteries arising from the wrong position (right artery from the left sinus, or left artery from the right sinus).
Detection of this condition is not easy unless with the help of echocardiography, angiogram, CT scan or MRI scan.
Once detected, it should be corrected surgically before the athlete is allowed to participate in competitive sports.
– Congenital Long QT Syndrome
This occurs when the electrical activity in the heart that corresponds to the phase of muscle relaxation is too long. The condition is genetically determined.
In certain forms of this disease, exercise is actually a trigger for ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation, lethal arrhythmias which may cause sudden cardiac death.
The condition can be diagnosed by an electrocardiogram.
As a precaution, all other family members of a person, who is found to have this condition, should go for a medical scan.
– Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia
This is also a genetic condition in which the muscle in the right lower chamber is replaced by fat and scars. The scars predispose the sufferer to ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation.
Again, this condition is very difficult to diagnose unless MRI scan is employed.
– Commotio Cordis
This cause of sudden cardiac death occurs in the absence of any heart disease, and is due to a blunt blow to the part of the chest overlying the heart (such as that caused by base ball, hockey puck, or even an innocent slap on the chest) at the precise moment of the heart’s relaxation. This is the time when the heart is most vulnerable to ventricular fibrillation.
It may sound incredible, but commotio cordis happens in about 2 percent of all athletes who die suddenly.