Answers to Athletes and Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Premier Health providers and athletic trainers answer frequently asked questions about sudden cardiac arrest.

How does an athlete with a cardiac abnormality serious enough to end his life play 25 or 30 basketball games and practice three times a week and not have any symptoms?

Dr. Sean Convery discusses how sudden cardiac events can occur in high school and college athletes. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.


That's a good question. A lot of times people wonder how a kid plays basketball in junior high, high school and two years of college and then all of a sudden something happens? The answer is partly bad luck. The wrong thing happens at the wrong time. A rhythm disturbance might occur that the heart can’t recover from. Athletes’ bodies change as they go through high school and college and some of these inherited cardiac abnormalities don't really surface until certain things happen in the cardiac system. A lot of times it's the electrical system in the heart that matures to a point where it becomes an issue.

Take a guy like Pete Maravich, who died playing pick-up basketball after a long, relatively storied career in high school, college and the pros. He dies playing pick-up basketball because he had a fairly rare congenital cardiac abnormality — and things went wrong at the wrong time.

If you looked back at the history of someone with a sudden cardiac event, there may have been some evidence somewhere that wasn't quite right. But at the time the test was done, no one had a reason to chase it. And if you went and chased every little thing, you'd have nobody playing anything. The maturity — or degeneration —of the cardiac electrical system, bad luck and bad timing are often to blame.

Learn more:

Chelsea L. Gilliam, APRN-CNP, AGACNP-BC

Piqua Family Practice

View Profile View Articles

Source: Michael W. Barrow, MD, Samaritan North Family Physicians; American Heart Association; National Institutes of Health; Nik Berger, MS, AT, ATC, Premier Health Sports Medicine – Miami Valley Hospital South; Jeffrey James, DO, Premier Orthopedics; Sean Convery, MD, Premier Orthopedics; Jeffrey Rayborn, MD, Premier Orthopedics