In a report today from the Detroit Free Press, we learned that the deaths of the 26-year-old and 36-year-old runners in the recent Detroit Marathon were due to cardiac causes. Although the report does not go into very much medical detail, the immediate cause of death for both was reported to be “cardiac dysrhythmia”–an abnormal, ineffective heartbeat–due to “heart attack.”
The Detroit Free Press reported a couple weeks ago about the death of the 62-year-old athlete, saying that his death was also due to “heart disease.”
I’ll post again here if more details become available about the specifics of these runners’ heart disease are made available.
Here at the blog, we’ve talked about a variety of cardiovascular diseases that affect athletes. Coronary artery disease, that can lead to heart attack, is the most common cause of sudden death in athletes over the age of 40.
Years after his death, many will remember Jim Fixx for the contribution he made to the popular enjoyment of running. His story is very compelling. In his mid-thirties, he was overweight (240 pounds), a 2-pack-a-day smoker, and sedentary. But he got the urge to do something healthier….and took up running at age 35. He would lose more than 60 pounds and became an example of how a healthier lifestyle was possible for ordinary folks.
In 1977, Fixx authored “The Complete Book of Running.” At the time, this was the best-selling non-fiction hardcover book ever published. He inspired countless Americans to take up the hobby of running.
Out for a run through the Vermont countryside on July 20, 1984, Fixx was found alongside the road, dead at the age of 52. An autopsy showed that he had severe blockages in all 3 of his coronary arteries….a setup for heart attack or sudden death.
On the face of it, Fixx’s death was stunning. His public persona was the picture of health. Yet we know that at the time of his death he didn’t have a personal physician. In fact, he hadn’t had a physical examination in years….despite his history of obesity and smoking. Moreover, he had a strong family history of coronary artery disease in his family: his father had his first heart attack at age 35 and died of his second heart attack at age 43.
We’ll never know if Fixx’s death was avoidable….but his story provides lessons for all of us middle-aged athletes who are pounding the pavement each day.
In my next post, I’ll talk about the problem of coronary artery disease, along with its risk factors, prevention, and treatment. And I promise to leave our readers with some useful advice on what they can do to prevent a story like Fixx’s.
Saw this article last week at U.S. News & World Report online, entitled “Determining the best way to prevent sudden death in athletes.”
The article summarizes some data about the problem of sudden death in athletes and makes several suggestions for athletes:
1. Get screened for heart problems. See the doctor.
2. Pay attention to your body and any potential warning signs. Get checked out if you have problems with chest pain, shortness of breath, light-headedness (or blacking out)
3. Check to be sure your local gym has an automatic external defibrillator….it could save your life.
All of these are great suggestions.
I came across an informative article about sudden cardiac death (SCD) in the online edition of the Halifax Evening Courier. The article focuses on the recent death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, but the content relates to the risk of SCD in young athletes as well. The article points to the need for careful screening examinations for cardiovascular disease and this fits in well with my previous post, “Who Needs a Doctor?”