Cardiovascular Risk for Triathlon Participation: An Expanded Profile

Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® study looks at incidence of sudden death and cardiac events during triathlons.

Researcher_0002_harrisMinneapolis, MN – March 29, 2016 – The popularity of participating in triathlons, comprised of swimming, bicycling and running, has grown exponentially in the U.S. The sport’s governing body, USA Triathlon, reported that its membership grew more than 250% from 1999 to 2014.  As the number of triathletes has increased, so have the number of deaths. Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation researchers, led by Kevin Harris, MD, studied U.S. triathlon events that took place between 1985-2015 and categorized them by the length of the swim segment (short = less than 750 meters, intermediate = 751-1500 meters, or long = more than 1500 meters). During that time period, 109 sudden deaths occurred, and 90% of the victims were male. An additional 12 triathletes had cardiac arrests, but were resuscitated.

The study found that the majority of deaths (72) occurred during the swimming event, followed by cycling (20). Those who died during the cycling event were most likely to be the victim of trauma due to collisions (74%). Approximately half of the deaths occur during the short triathlons, which is the distance with the most participants. Cardiovascular disease played a larger role in the other deaths; of the 41 victims who underwent autopsies, 55% of them were found to have evidence of cardiovascular disease that either caused or contributed to the death.

“These findings provide an enhanced understanding of the potential cardiovascular risks for some participants of triathlons,” said Dr. Harris. “We have learned that middle-aged males comprise the vast majority of victims and usually during the swim. The finding of significant cardiovascular disease in many of the participants may suggest a role for pre-participation screening of those that may be at increased risk. It is, however, interesting to see that in some cases, successful resuscitative efforts have occurred.”

Results from the study will be presented at a session at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session & Expo in April.


About the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation®

The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF) strives to create a world without heart and vascular disease. To achieve this bold vision, it is dedicated to improving the cardiovascular health of individuals and communities through innovative research and education.

  • Scientific Innovation and Research — MHIF is a recognized research leader in the broadest range of cardiovascular medicine and population health initiatives. Each year MHIF leads more than 175 active research projects and publishes more than 120 peer-reviewed studies. Cardiologists, hospitals and communities around the world adopt MHIF protocols to save lives, improve care and create healthier living opportunities.
  • Education and Outreach — MHIF provides more than 10,000 hours of education each year putting its research into practice to improve outcomes. And, MHIF leads cutting-edge, transformative population health research to connect, engage, inform and empower individuals and communities to improve their health.

The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation’s work is funded by generous donors and sponsors and supports research initiatives of Minneapolis Heart Institute® at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Minneapolis Heart Institute® physicians provide care for patients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis and at 38 community sites across Minnesota and western Wisconsin.