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Nov 13, 2013

Sudden Cardiac Death Rare in Women

Study finds that sports-related sudden cardiac death is much lower in women compared to men.

Sudden cardiac death is a leading cause of death in the United States, killing one person every 90 seconds. Although regular physical activity helps reduce risk of sudden cardiac death, it can also temporarily increase risk for sudden cardiac death, especially among untrained individuals who abruptly partake in strenuous exercise. But according to a recent study published in Circulation, women are much less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death during exercise than men.

This study was conducted in France between 2005 and 2010, during which time researchers observed 820 cases of sudden cardiac death during sports activities in subjects aged 10–75. Interestingly, only 5% of these cases occurred in women and in general, most cases occurred during or shortly after moderate to vigorous physical activity—mainly jogging, cycling and swimming.

After further analysis, researchers found that sports-related sudden cardiac death was 30 times less common among women than men, depending on age. Women were also more likely to be alive when they reached the hospital and fewer women had underlying heart conditions (referred to as structural heart disease) compared to men.

Researchers admit that results may be skewed by the fact that men participate in recreational and competitive sports more than women. Nonetheless, findings suggest that sudden cardiac death during sports is still rare, especially among women. So overall, risk of sudden cardiac death shouldn’t dissuade women from being physically active, as it provides tremendous health benefits and can actually reduce cardiovascular risk. However, more research is needed to understand risk of sudden cardiac death in women and it’s important that all patients work with their doctor to tailor exercise programs that are safe for them.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is sudden cardiac death?

  • Sudden cardiac death can result from sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest must be immediately addressed with CPR and medical attention to improve chances of survival.
  • Who is most at risk for sudden cardiac death?

  • Men are 2-3 times more likely to have sudden cardiac arrest than women. Risk also increases with age, particularly in those with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as an arrhythmia or heart failure. It is important to address any cardiovascular risk factors or conditions to reduce risk for sudden cardiac arrest and death.

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