Exercise is not to blame for sudden cardiac death in young and seemingly fit people, say researchers.
Instead, the phenomenon is largely caused by unrecognized heart disease, with most cases occurring at home when not doing exercise, they report.
Speaking at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Toronto, Ontario, researcher Andrew Krahn (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada) blames distorted news coverage for the assumption that sports might be to blame for such deaths.
"Put it this way: If you have a 13-year-old kid who is not the star athlete who dies at home watching TV, it doesn't make the news," said Krahn in a press statement. "But if the same kid is a high school quarterback or hockey star, then it's covered."
For the study, the researchers reviewed coroners' reports for 174 cases of presumed sudden cardiac death that occurred in the state of Ontario in 2008 in people aged 2 to 40 years.
Most of the victims were male (76%) and aged between 18 and 40 years (90%).
The team found that 126 (72%) of those who died had heart disease, which was previously undiagnosed in 78%.
Contrary to previous suggestions, only 33% of cases occurred in children or adolescents and only 9% occurred in adults while participating in moderate or vigorous exercise. The majority (72%) of events occurred at home.
Krahn believes that more attention should be focused on diagnosing heart disease before such events occur. For example, more attention should be paid to warning signs such as fainting, he said.
"I would advocate for careful screening of people who faint, using questionnaires and education of healthcare professionals so that when warning signs present themselves, they recognize them and this information gets passed on to the right people," he suggested.
Education and training in the use of Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) for those working in schools, gyms, and other large institutions could also save lives, commented independent expert Beth Abramson from the University of Toronto.
"The odds of surviving a cardiac arrest can increase to up to 75% when early cardio pulmonary resuscitation is used in combination with an AED in the first few minutes," she told the press.
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