Sudden cardiac deaths in sports are much more common among men than among women, a new study finds.
Moreover, these deaths varied by sport among men, but not among women, the French researchers added.
"The risk of sudden death during sport is dramatically lower among women compared to men," said study author Eloi Marijon, M.D., from the Universite Paris Descartes at the Sorbonne Paris Cite in Paris.
"Whether this finding is related to the way of practicing sports or constitutional -- for example, difference in terms of coronary heart disease and risk of arrhythmia during acute coronary syndrome -- needs further study," Dr. Marijon said.
Because guidelines now recommend screening before taking part in sports, there may need to be different screenings for men and women, he suggested.
"We know that screening is very difficult in the subset of young competitive athletes, and undoubtedly will be much more difficult in the general population. Our results suggest that such screening should not be carried out on a similar basis in men compared to women," Marijon explained.
The report was published Aug. 14 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Gregg Fonarow, M.D., a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that "sports-related unexpected sudden death in athletes are highly visible, can have devastating consequences and frequently attract media attention, prompting interest in screening programs and wider deployment of public access defibrillators."
Specific screening measures have been introduced in certain countries, but their effectiveness and value have been debated, he added.
"The findings from this study may help to facilitate better targeting of screening programs for individuals prior to participation in recreational sports activities," Dr. Fonarow said.
For the study, Dr. Marijon's team looked at nearly 800 sports-related sudden deaths in France between 2005 and 2010.
A sports-related sudden death is one that happens within an hour after taking part in sports, the researchers noted. The investigators only included sudden deaths during moderate and vigorous exertion, assessing them by sex, age and sports common among women in France -- cycling, jogging, and swimming.
Among these deaths, only 5 percent involved women. For women, the average age at death was 44 while for men it was 46, the study authors found.
Based on these data, Dr. Marijon's group estimated sudden sports-related deaths among women to be at 0.51 per million sports participants, but for men it was 10.1 per million sports participants.
In addition, the incidence rate of sports-related sudden death increased with age among men, but not among women, the researchers found.