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Sudden Death in Athletes

While reading the newspaper or watching the evening news, you must have come across a piece or story that mentioned the sudden death of an athlete on the field or on the court.

That must have had you thinking: why does that happen? How can a person who was perfectly fine one minute be dead the next? What is causing this sudden death?

The answer is their heart. Sudden death in athletes is usually because their heart gave out.

But what caused it to do so? Athletes are usually in prime shape. Not only do they eat healthy, but they also exercise on a regular basis. So, Factors like obesity and high cholesterol are out of question. Not to mention old age as athletes are usually between the ages 20 to 35.

So what caused their heart to suddenly stop beating?

What Causes Sudden Death in Athletes?

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)

One of the top reasons for sudden death in athletes is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or more commonly known as HCM.  HCM is a genetic condition, which results in thickening of the heart’s muscle walls. Because of thickened walls, the electrical system of the heart gets disrupted, resulting in arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats. This can cause sudden cardiac death.

Symptoms of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Most of the time, HCM is undetected because the symptoms match those of other conditions. The symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy usually occur when an athlete is exercising or participating in a sport. These include:

Who can get Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is an inherited condition. If one of the parents suffers from this condition, there is a 50% chance that their child will inherit this disease as well.

Diagnosing Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

There are several tests that will confirm the diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

The first step towards diagnosing HCM is an imaging test known as an echocardiogram. Through this test, the doctor will be able to determine if the blood flow is obstructed due to the thickened heart muscles.

The best way to diagnose this condition is through a treadmill stress test, conducted in a monitored setting. The doctor will examine the response to exercise and gauge whether or not the symptoms manifest.

Electrocardiogram or ECG can be used to determine if the chambers of the hearts are enlarged, resulting in abnormal rhythms.

Treatment Options for HCM

The main goal of treatment is to protect athletes suffering from HCM from sudden death. There are several medications available that can help with the condition.

How can HCM be Prevented?

Since it is a genetic condition, its prevention is not possible. It is usually suggested by doctors that people who suffer from this condition should not participate in competitive sports. 

Are you an athlete and are experiencing any of these symptoms? Contact Keystone Cardiology Center and find out the cause behind it.

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