Understanding Rare Cardiac Deaths in Marathon Runners

Posted On Aug 09, 2022

4 Min Read

Department of Cardiology

Manipal Hospitals

Rare Cardiac Deaths in Marathon Runners

Recently, a marathon runner crumpled at the finish line. The runner was 32 years of age, in excellent health and was a seasoned marathon runner—sudden death due to cardiac failure without any pre-existing symptoms sent shockwaves in the running community. Sudden cardiac deaths are rare amongst marathon runners. Stats quote up to 1.9 deaths per 1,00,000 runners globally. These deaths attract much attention in the media and the fitness and running community. 

Causes of Cardiac Deaths in Marathon Runners

  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Mainly affecting young athletes, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy thickens the heart muscles making it more challenging for the heart to pump blood. The condition goes unnoticed as athletes do not experience any usual symptoms. Also, a rare genetic disease, it is not part of standard tests. 

  • Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease mainly affects older athletes due to the gradual buildup of cholesterol deposits called plaque in the arteries. The arteries narrow over time, restricting the blood flow. In athletes, coronary artery disease usually has no initial symptoms.

  • Coronary Anomalies

A rare condition in which the coronary artery did not form correctly at the time of birth and is in the wrong spot. While most cases are not dangerous, it disrupts the usual blood flow and might be hazardous in extreme situations like running a marathon.

  • Coronary Vasospasm

An instant tightening of blood vessels restricts the blood flow to the heart muscle. Athletes might not feel any symptoms as the coronary vasospasm increases the chances of a heart attack.

  • Valvular Heart Disease

A normal heart has four chambers and valves to regulate blood flow. When one valve is damaged, it might not open or close as designed during a heartbeat, restricting the blood flow supply. There are no symptoms till the advanced stage, and an intense activity like a marathon can trigger a heart attack.

  • Coronary Dissection

An emergency condition results from a tear in one of the heart vessels causing a heart attack if not diagnosed in time.

  • Myocardial Bridging

A condition when one or more arteries, instead of lying on the surface of the heart, goes through it. While it is mostly harmless, it may cause a heart attack in rare situations.

  • Ion Channelopathies

Diseases like Brugada syndrome, Electrolyte abnormalities, Lactic acidosis, and Ventricular arrhythmias result from rare gene mutations and may result in sudden cardiac death.

  • Emotional Stress

A stressful event may trigger shortness of breath and curb the heart's ability to pump blood. Untreated, it may cause a heart attack. 

  • Dehydration

Blood vessels contract due to a shortage of water in the body, resulting in plaque buildup and blockage in arteries, potentially triggering a heart attack. Marathon runners are often prone to risks of dehydration.

  • Heat Stroke

The heart starts rushing blood more than usual to the skin's surface to cool the body in case of a heat stroke. This additional effort may lead to a heart attack.

Recommendations for Marathon Runners

Dr. Pramod Narkhede is a consultant in cardiology at Manipal Hospitals, Kharadi, Pune. He has more than 18 years of experience helping patients and athletes prevent and recover from heart diseases. Here are some top recommendations from Dr. Pramod Narkhede.

  • Pre-Race ECG and ECHO Screening

Before the marathon, an ECG and ECHO screening will help the participants identify any anomalies that may cause severe dangers. The screening should focus on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and irregular heartbeats. Visit Manipal Hospitals for Cardiac Disease Treatment in Kharadi Pune.

  • Regular Exercise

Regular exercise reduces the risk of sudden cardiac arrests during vigorous activities like a marathon. Consult with our Cardiologist in Kharadi Pune to know all about the crucial exercises that help in keeping your heart healthy.

  • Rapid Response Team

Marathon events should have the presence of trained medical practitioners with automatic defibrillators, which can significantly improve the chance of survival in case of a heart attack.

  • Maintain Data

Monitor the marathoners for the biochemical and functional changes in their bodies. Monitoring will increase the athletic life and help the larger running community with better treatment options based on data.

If you want to understand medical facts and news, switch over to the latest podcast by Manipal Hospitals. To read more about the lifestyle changes to stay healthy, read blogs by India's leading doctors here. For a health check-up and appointment at Manipal Hospitals, Kharadi, visit us online or call 0206-165-6666.

Department of Cardiology

Manipal Hospitals, Kharadi, Pune

Rare Cardiac Deaths in Marathon Runners | Cardiology Hospital in Kharadi Pune | Manipal Hospitals