Sudden Death in the US Olympic Marathon Trial
Thursday, November 08 2007 @ 01:37 AM PST
Contributed by: mday
Most of us are aware that elite distance runner Ryan Shay collapsed and died in the US Olympic Marathon trial. Sudden death during exercise is something that is alway in the background. There was also a death recently in the Chicago marathon. There is a lot of speculation and fear surrounding these events and it is easy to get the impression that exercise is risky. Perhaps some people even believe athletes are at a higher risk than the general population of sudden death.
The most informative discussion I've seen so far of sudden death during exercise is here on an excellent sports science blog.
"Perhaps at the outset, we must emphasize this vital point - people who exercise and are fitter are LESS likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and die suddenly than people who do not. In otherwords, put simply, if you took a random sample of say 1000 people, those who are fit and who exercise stand a better chance of being healthy than those who do not. Unfortunately, when athletes collapse and die, it tends to be a highly public event, and gains a disproportionate level of media attention. In these individuals, there is almost always some underlying pathology, and it is the actual act of doing exercise that places the stress on the system to cause the problem. That is, they are more likely to experience a heart attack or cardiac arrest during exercise, but their overall chances of this happening are still lower than for the inactive population."
The entire post goes into some statistics and shows that athletes are much less likely to experience sudden death than the general population. However, it also explains that sudden death is more likely to ocurr during exersize than during ambulatory times. So when an athlete experiences sudden death (not from trauma) chances are it will be during exersize.
Another blog post explains that athletes are not immune from cardiovascular disease. This post mentions running author Jim Fixx and Alberto Salazar, the marathon and ultramarathon champion who recently survived a heart attack. Again, the point is that a given athlete will be better off exersizing than not. But athletes also need to be aware that they can experience cardiovascular disease and seek medical intervention when appropriate.