Cardiac Arrest Risk for Marathoners & Half Marathoners – 0.00054%

Posted: January 13, 2012 in Training
Tags: , , , , ,

Just this week there was an article published by MSNBC’s TODAY Health that shared results from a recently concluded study about the risk of Cardiac Arrest among Half-Marathon and Marathon participants from the year 2000 through 2010.

This study was reported online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

This report examined the number of cardiac arrest cases in runners participating in marathons and half marathons in the U.S. from January 2000 to May 31, 2010.  Of the 10.9 million runners, 59 suffered cardiac arrest.

In an excerpt from the report itself:

In other words, “marathons and half-marathons are associated with a low overall risk of cardiac arrest and sudden death,” write the study authors, a team led by Dr. Aaron Baggish, a Massachusetts General Hospital cardiologist. Cardiac arrest, by the way, is different from a heart attack. It happens when an arrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat, causes the heart to stop beating — and it can cause death within minutes if the person doesn’t receive medical attention.

“This is a pretty careful study, and it starts to give some more insight into who those people are,” says Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn., who assisted Baggish with the report and has studied the link between running and heart problems. (He has, oh, just a smidge of experience with marathons himself: In 1972, he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Eugene, Ore., and four years later, he finished 16th in the Boston Marathon.)

One sobering item of note in the report, for a male marathoner such as myself was the fact that out of the 59 recorded cases, 51 were men.  Generally speaking, men run the risk of cardiac arrest at a frequency roughly twice that as do women, but at 86% (51/59), that is a statistically significant point.

You might think that it is simply a reflection of the percentage of total participants being more slanted toward male athletes than female, but the opposite is actually true over the last ten years, where the percentage of women participants is actually“higher” than that of their male counterparts.

The study also spoke to the fact that these incidents of cardiac arrest are very different from a heart attack.  Cardiac arrest occurs when an arrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat, causes the heart to stop beating — and it can cause death within minutes if the person does not receive medical attention.

Is Marathoning safe for the masses?  To me the answer is pretty clear.  If you have a check-up with your physician prior to starting any exercise program, especially a half-marathon or marathon training program, you are taking the right steps for sure.

If you follow a respected training plan either developed for you by a coach or an online program/published program from an expert such as Hal Higdon, Pete Pfitzinger, Jack Daniels, Jeff Galloway or others, you are even further down the right path.

Are there still risks involved?  Certainly.  I lost a friend this year who was stuck by a car while running near his home.  There is virtually no such thing as a guarantee in most things in life – but with each unfortunate incident that occurs at a marathon or half-marathon gets more and more attention that the sport is somehow “unsafe” – it is important to look at all the facts and realize that for the most part – each of us take far greater risks several times every day than do those who lace up their shoes and stare down Lady Marathon on race day.

To those families who have lost someone close to them in races and/or in training – my heart goes out to you.  Losing someone who you care about so quickly is shocking and terribly sad. 

Being able to do something that you truly love is a gift.  It is that which we should remember when we think of those individuals.  If given a choice they would rather run than not.  Train than rest.  Race than spectate.

In a word.  They were marathoners.

Mile 25.5 NYC Marathon 2011

Run on people.

For the article – click here: 

http://todayhealth.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/01/11/10096130-marathoners-cardiac-arrest-risk-quite-low-study-finds

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Comments
  1. Tom M says:

    As a late-40s male with a horrific family history of heart disease, I gotta say, “PREACH IT, BROTHER!” Thanks for posting this important information, Joe. This is why I run.

    • Joseph Marruchella says:

      Thanks for the message Tom! So great to hear from you. Need to catch up after the Austin race in February – I’m planning on a huge post-race breakfast – let me know if you are in!

  2. Rob Savarese says:

    Great advice Joe. Getting physicals is critical and having a smart training plan adds a safety factor. EKGs, bloodwork and such done annually will go a long way to spotting trouble early. As you said there are no guarantees but doing the little extras, if nothing else, helps the spouses sleep better 🙂

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Rob! Thanks for the visit and the message – you bet, we can never be too careful for sure. I’ll be heading in later this month for blood work, body comp. test, blood pressure etc. – I think that is a great thing to do every couple of years, but when I’m out there pushing it on race day.

      Furthest thing from my mind. That’s the rub, as really “racing” the endurance events is tough. There is a fine line between discomfort and distress – it’s important we all stay very in tune with our bodies and race smart out there. Especially in tough conditions.

      Best to you and the family! J

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