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Running-related heart attacks

Running-related heart attacks

Suffering a heart attack while exercising is something that nobody ever wants to experience as it poses significant risks. Such an attack can be life-threatening should proper treatment not be administered in a timely manner.

We are all aware of how important exercise is when it comes to improving health and strengthening our cardiovascular capabilities. Then, how come every now and then there is news about long-distance runners suffering heart attacks while running?


Let us first look at the actual fatality rates that result from a cardiac arrest while running

Research looked at full and half marathons which took place all over the USA during a 10-year period from 2000 to 2010. They found that of the 11 million people studied, 59 suffered cardiac arrest, which is a ratio of 1 in 184,000. However, when we compare these numbers to the fatalities that occur as a result of accidents on Thai roads, it is 1 in every 10,000. Hence, road accidents fatalities are almost 2 times more. I personally think that the reason we are seeing more news stories about runners suffering from heart attacks during a race is simply because there has been such a marked increase in the number of runners in Thailand of late.

The key conclusions from the research based on the information gathered from 59 runners who experienced a cardiac arrest are: 

  • 40 of the cardiac arrests occurred during full marathons. The remaining 19 happened during half marathons.
  • The average age of those affected was 42.
  • Those affected were mostly male (86%).
  • Symptoms usually displayed themselves with around ¼ of the race remaining.
  • 71%, or 42 out of 59, died as a result of the cardiac arrest.
  • The main cause of these fatal cardiac arrests was due to a portion of the heart thickening. The people who survived generally suffered from coronary heart disease.

Being mindful and aware of the signs is important 

Interestingly, the rate of fatal cardiac arrests among this group (71%) is lower than in the general population, which is 90%. This may be a result of first aid facilities present at running events. The United States is one of the countries particularly prepared to offer efficient treatment in this regard. We may not have the same facilities here in Thailand. However, we can reach satisfactory standards of safety in the future if runners are mindful of their fellow competitors. Furthermore, one should inform officials of any irregularities they experience or witness.

Finally, although the rate of people who suffered cardiac arrests is not particularly high, being aware is vital. Being informed of the signs that someone may be in danger could help protect them from harm. Anybody who experiences tightness in the chest, feels like they’re about to faint or cannot breathe properly should decrease their speed until they come to a stop. After that, immediately inform someone close by about their situation.

If you do witness a fellow runner losing consciousness during a race, carry out the first aid using the following steps:

  1. Assess whether they are conscious or not by gently shaking them.
  2. If they do not respond, shout out for help from someone close by, and inform medical staff or call an ambulance.
  3. Check their breathing by observing their chest movement.
  4. If they do not breathe, or if you are not sure, begin administering CPR immediately by pressing down firmly on the central chest bone around 100 times per minute. There is no need to breathe into their lungs for this type of CPR.

While these simple steps could be enough to save a fellow runner’s life, I sincerely hope that this fate does not befall any of you.


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