Sudden cardiac death in young athletes
Sudden cardiac death in young athletes is often devastating for the family and often attracts a lot of media attention. Most common cause of sudden death due to underlying structural heart disease in young athletes is a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It is a genetically transmitted disease in which the heart muscles get grossly thickened, sometimes producing obstruction to the outflow of blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This variety is known as hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy. The word cardiomyopathy means heart muscle disease. Due to extreme thickening of the heart muscle, the electrical conduction pattern in the heart is altered. This can lead to dangerous abnormal rhythms of the heart which can be sometimes fatal. In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, sudden cardiac death is likely to occur soon after a heavy exertion. Hence pre-participation screening programs to detect underlying heart disease has been proposed.
Next important cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes is abnormalities in coronary arteries, the blood vessels which supply oxygenated blood to the heart. A few cases of sudden death are due to rupture of aorta, the biggest blood vessel arising from heart and carrying oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. Inherited electrical disorders of the heart are also an important cause of sudden death in athletes, though less common. Some cases of sudden death could be due to an inflammation of the heart known as myocarditis. Heart disease present at birth (congenital heart disease), but remaining silent also account for a few cases of sudden cardiac death.