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Rev Esp Cardiol. 2002 Apr;55(4):347-58.

[Causes of sudden death during sports activities in Spain].

[Article in Spanish]

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Sección de Histopatología, Instituto de Toxicología de Madrid, Ministerio de Justicia, Madrid, Spain.



Sudden death during sports activities has a profound impact on relatives, society, and athletes. Medical screening programs usually fail to prevent sudden death. We report the characteristics of a series of sudden deaths that occurred during sports in Spain.


We reviewed cases of sudden death that occurred during sports activities from 1995 to 2001 in the registries of the Institute of Toxicology of Madrid, Spain (Ministry of Justice).


The series included 61 cases ranging in age from 11 to 65 years (average 31.9 14.2), 59 males and 2 females. The sports most frequently involved were cycling (21), football (13), and gymnastics (5). The causes of death were atheromatous coronary disease: 25 (40.9%) (23 over 30 years); arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy: 10 (16.3%) (7 under 30 years); hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: 4 (6.5%); idiopathic left ventricular hypertrophy: 3 (4.9%); postmyocarditis myocardial fibrosis: 2 (3.2%); dilated cardiomyopathy: 1 (1.6%); congenital anomalies in the origin of the coronary arteries: 2 (3.2%); aortic valve disease: 2 (3.2%); and others: 2 (3.2%). In 10 cases (16.3%) (all under 30), the cause of death was undetermined. In 16 cases (26.2%) there was a known pathological antecedent. The disease responsible for death had been diagnosed in only three cases.


Arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy and severe left ventricular hypertrophy were the most common causes of sports-related death in persons under the age of 30. In 30% the cause of death was undetermined. Atheromatous coronary disease was prevalent over the age of 30 years and associated with cycling. Medical screening programs actually in use fail to detect a significant proportion of athletes at risk for sudden death.

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