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Cardiac Health

Student-athletes are viewed as some of the healthiest members of society, so sudden cardiac deaths are always shocking. Various causes of these incidents can occur in one of every 40,000 student-athletes per year. And though many athletes with heart conditions can live a normal life and not experience health-related problems, sudden fatality from a heart condition is the leading medical cause of death in NCAA athletes, responsible for 75 percent of all sudden deaths that occur during exercise, training or competition. But by providing training to coaches and team medical staff, and reporting signs and symptoms, we can provide all athletes with a healthy and exciting sports career.

Cardiac Care Best Practices

The NCAA Sport Science Institute and leading sports medicine groups across the country have crafted an Interassociation Consensus Statement on Cardiovascular Care of College Athletes that includes guidance to help NCAA member schools provide cardiovascular care for college athletes and prepare for life-threatening cardiac events.

The consensus statement, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and endorsed by nine leading cardiac and sports medicine organizations, was the product of a two-day meeting of the 2014 NCAA Cardiac Task Force, which met in September 2014 in Indianapolis and brought together more than two dozen experts who represented a bevy of top medical organizations, including the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association, among others.

The statement includes a Cardiovascular Care Checklist of Best Practices and a summary of cardiovascular priorities in collegiate athletes in collegiate athletes to serve as resources for schools as they consider how to incorporate the recommendations into their current programs and practices. 

The following organizations have endorsed the interassociation consensus statement:

  • American College of Sports Medicine.
  • American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.
  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.
  • American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine.
  • College Athletic Trainers’ Society.
  • College Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association.
  • National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association.
  • Simon’s Fund.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are heart disorders common? More common than might be expected in a population group that is perceived to be healthy. Three in every 1,000 athletes may have an underlying heart disorder, which can lead to an incidence of sudden cardiac death in one of every 40,000 student athletes per year.

How does the NCAA protect athletes from them? The NCAA has taken action steps including mandating medical examinations and requiring CPR, first aid, and automated external defibrillator (AED) training for coaches. The NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook also outlines guidelines for emergency preparedness.

What are the signs of a heart condition? A physician or athletic trainer should be consulted if one or more of these symptoms are noticed: Fainting or seizure during or after exercise, emotional excitement, emotional distress or being startled (e.g., diving into a pool); chest pain during exercise; unexplained fainting or seizures; unusual shortness of breath during exercise; unusual fatigue during exercise; a racing heartbeat; dizziness or lightheadedness during or after exercise.

Does race, gender or ethnicity play a role in sudden cardiac deaths (SCD)? It can to a degree. Incidences of sudden cardiac death have been more prevalent among African-Americans (one in every 17,000 student-athletes per year) than Caucasians (one in 58,000). Additionally, men have been shown to be at greater risk (one per 33,000) than women (one in 76,000). It is important to note that the reasons for these disparities are unknown and more study is needed before risk for SCD is understood.