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Running Fatalities from Sudden Cardiac Death Uncommon October 21, 2009

FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Erica Cline at 706/828-2225.

Running Fatalities from Sudden Cardiac Death Uncommon

AUGUSTA – Those people planning to run in the second annual Augusta Half Marathon on Nov. 1 may be eyeing recent deaths among runners with trepidation, but physicians say that such deaths are an anomaly.

Six runners have died in full or half marathons in the past six months – three of them within 16 minutes during the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon on Oct. 18. Typically, people who died while undergoing strenuous exercise have some kind of underlying health condition, such as heart disease, although some suffer sudden cardiac death.

With sudden cardiac death, a person is alive one minute and gone the next. But technology exists that can help increase the survival rates of these patients.

“Sudden cardiac death is death that occurs, for instance, in someone who has a weakened heart due to a previous heart attack,” said David Clark, M.D., a cardiac electrophysiologist who practices at University Hospital. “And at some point in the future, which no one can predict, many of those patients will develop a life-threatening irregular heart rhythm that causes the heart to stop pumping, and they die suddenly.”

Past heart attack patients, however, are not the only ones at risk for sudden cardiac death. Dr. Clark said that people with genetically enlarged hearts that include a thickened wall and those whose enlarged heart may have been caused by a virus also are at risk.

The problem with sudden cardiac death is that because there are no warning signs and it happens so quickly, there often is little to no chance for medical intervention. That’s where the Automatic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (AICD) comes in.

Unlike a pacemaker, which helps regulate irregular heartbeats, the AICD actually shocks the heart back into rhythm should it stop beating.

“What the defibrillator does is that it monitors the heart 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dr. Clark said. “The defibrillator will recognize an abnormal heart beat within two seconds and immediately deliver a life-saving electrical shock inside the heart to restore the heartbeat and save their life.”

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