Sport by its very nature includes inherent risks, including the risk of death. Death in sport is tragic, but fortunately, it is rare. Sudden death among athletes can strike both pro and amateur, young and old. It is most disturbing when it happens to an athlete and causes us all to stop and re-evaluate exercising for health. Fortunately, sudden death in an athlete, especially a young athlete, is a rare event. Estimates vary greatly depending on the age of the athlete, the source of the sampling population, and the sports activity. Sudden cardiac death has usually been defined as one that is unexpected and non-traumatic and that occurs instantaneously or within a few minutes of an abrupt change in the person's previous clinical state.
There are many causes for Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) among athletes. When the athlete is younger than thirty five, the cause is usually a structural abnormality in the heart muscle, or coronary arteries. These conditions are usually congenital, or present at birth, and they are difficult to detect. Gross abnormalities are identified at birth or in early childhood and when things go wrong or death occurs, there is an explanation for it. With more subtle abnormalities, there may be no symptoms and they are very hard to detect, and an athlete may just suddenly collapse and die because the abnormality was triggered just right, and it completely shuts off blood flow to the majority of the heart muscles. There is no physical exam or routine testing that can identify this, so there is no real way to stop it. Every athlete should have a thorough physical exam prior to engaging in training, because there are a number of symptoms that a skilled physician can identify.