Are triathlons dangerous? If you read this article it looks as if they had taken all the precautions so I don’t think this or any other triathlon is particularly dangerous. If you have an underlying heart condition any type of vigorous exercise may trigger a life-threatening event – such as a “heart attack”. And how do you know if you have an underlying heart condition? Well you probably won’t know if you never had any symptoms that could be followed up by a cardiologist with special tests. However, with the recent advent of genetic testing it may be possible in the future (if economically feasible – and that’s the kicker because testing costs money!) to screen individuals to see if they are susceptible to Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS).
SDS conditions are much more fatal when combined with strenuous physical exercise; they are most often hereditary and, as Dr. Sanjay Sharma from the European Society of Sports Cardiology (ESSC) explains: “Only 20 percent of cases exhibit symptoms, for the other 80 percent the first symptom is death.”
It is possible to screen for SDS, but the procedure (though simple to administer) requires an expert cardiologist to determine the result. According to Dr. Sharma, the lack of available expertise in Europe helps to explain why some governments are reluctant to make screening compulsory for all professional sportsmen.
Interestingly, most of the deaths reported in this triathlon were in the swimming leg of the event. Is swimming inherently more dangerous than the cycling or running portions?
And what about marathons and large scale bike rides (not even races – but grand fondos that have a wide variety of people involved just like marathons and to a degree triathlons)? Are they dangerous too?
Deaths during marathons are not unheard of, but they are relatively rare. In April, a study presented at the American College of Cardiology scientific session in Orlando, Fla., reported that the risk of sudden death during a marathon is 0.8 per 100,000 people. The risk is greater during triathlon events, which include running, swimming and cycling. In the triathlon, the risk of sudden death is 1.5 in 100,000, according to the report. The incidence of sudden cardiac death in young adults has been estimated at 0.9 and 2.3 per 100,000 for non-athletes and athletes, respectively.
By comparison, the risk of dying in childbirth is 13 per 100,000 births. The risk of dying from diabetes is 23 per 100,000 population. The risk of dying in a car accident is 1 in 6,700.
What you don’t hear about is the person having a heart attack mowing their lawn, shoveling snow, or doing something as innocuous as having sex! Yet, that happens often but it is out of the media spotlight. Interestingly enough exercise does raise your risk of an untoward (bad) event but at the same time it is more than offset by all the health benefits. If you look at the data carefully you will note that people who exercise regularly tend to be healthier, carry less excess weight, and live longer (and some would say a better quality life as well). The fact is that many people die of heart attacks sitting on their sofa or sleeping in their beds. Does that mean we should not relax and never go to sleep? Of course not, it just means that if you have an underlying heart problem (whether you are aware of it or not) sudden exertion such as found in many sporting activities may be the trigger that causes a problem. Also note that there are other conditions and activities that are of greater risk like diabetes (most likely excessive weight), car accidents, and childbirth!
If your really want to decrease your risk of dying fly aboard a commercial plane: the odds of dying in a plane crash are almost nil!!!