NPR : News

Filed Under:

Marathon Runners Face Low Risk Of Cardiac Arrest

Running long-distance races isn't going to hurt your heart any more than other vigorous sports, researchers say. Just make sure you're fit enough to attempt the feat in the first place.

In the past decade, nearly 11 million runners participated in long-distance races, but only 59 suffered cardiac arrests, according to findings just published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Most of the cases happened to be in runners with undiagnosed, pre-existing heart problems.

"Certainly doing the run didn't cause the heart conditions," study author Dr. Aaron Baggish tells Shots, "but it was probably the stimulus that caused the near-fatal or fatal event." For the study, Baggish, associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, compiled data on runners in marathons (26.2 miles) and half-marathons (13.1 miles) as far back as 2000.

The average age of runners whose hearts stopped beating was 42. Most were men.

A condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or a thickening of the heart muscle, was the underlying condition leading to cardiac arrest in many of the younger people. And those heart stoppages are tougher to ovecome with CPR, Baggish says.

Older runners tended to have underlying coronary heart disease, which, he says, leads to a type of cardiac arrest that respond better to CPR.

The study also shows that cardiac arrest cases in races are on the rise, especially in men. Baggish attributes this to an increase of participation in marathons and half-marathons — doubling in the past 10 years — and the male predisposition for cardiac arrest.

"Recently more and more folks that have a history of being sedentary and even having heart disease or heart risk factors are turning to the sport to improve their health," he says. "These are the people who are probably most at risk."

All told, 42 of the 59 people who had cardiac arrests died during the race or at the hospital after being taken there. That translates to about 1 death per 259,000 runners. For collegiate athletes, the sudden death rate is 1 per 43,770, researchers say. For triathletes, it's 1 per 52,630.

The mortality rate for marathoners and half-marathoners is about 20 percent lower than the rate for typical cardiac arrest cases that happen outside hospitals, the report says.

Baggish says that the survivors of race-related cardiac arrests got immediate, bystander-initiated CPR. Among people who died, less than half of got CPR.

"This means that if a cardiac arrest occurs, the only real way of ensuring a chance of survival is for the people that witnessed the event to start CPR immediately," he says.

Although the cardiac-arrest risk is low, Baggish says people should get checked out by a doctor before tackling a long-distance run — even if they're young.

"The deal is that exercise is really quite protective, but it's not completely protective," he says. "If you're destined to have a problem, it's most likely to occur while you're actually exercising."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Remembering Robert Swanson, Advertising's 'King Of Jingles'

Robert Swanson revolutionized American advertising and wrote some of the most memorable ad jingles of the 1950s and '60s for products ranging from Campbell's Soup to Pall Mall cigarettes. He died at 95 July 17 at his home in Phoenix, Ariz.
NPR

More Than Just Saying 'Cheese,' Hundreds Sit Test To Become Official Experts

The American Cheese Society will begin proctoring its next Certified Cheese Professional Exam in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, during the group's annual conference.
WAMU 88.5

Democratic National Convention Day Two: Uniting The Party

An update on day two of the Democratic convention: Bill Clinton takes the stage and ongoing efforts by party leaders to build unity.

WAMU 88.5

How To Help Teens And Children Fight 'Tech Addiction'

Many parents and therapists say obsessive internet use is a very real problem for some teens and children. But the term “internet addiction” is controversial and not officially recognized as a disorder. How to help kids who compulsively use computers and mobile technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.