By and large, participants in triathlons are generally in excellent physical shape. However, such endurance events could carry a risk for cardiac arrest and sudden death, particularly among older men.

A study published recently in Annals of Internal Medicine documents 122 deaths and 13 cardiac arrests have occurred during US triathlons between 1985 and 2016.

This data was compiled via sources such as the US National Registry of Sudden Death in Athletes (which uses news media, Internet searches, LexisNexis archival databases, and news clipping services) and USA Triathlon (USAT) records, per the study abstract.

Nearly 50% of the deaths occurred in short-distance triathlons, and 67% of them occurred during the swimming portion of the competition, making swimming—particularly open water swimming—possibly a unique danger in triathlon not seen in other endurance sports.

In addition, most of those who survived a cardiac arrest experienced it during the land-based segment, according to the study, per a news item on Medpage Today.


Overall, per the data, the authors calculate a death rate of 1.74 per 100,000 triathlon competitors, per event. This means, per the news item, that those who participate in a triathlon could elevate their risk of sudden death by a factor of more than 1,000.

Older men seem to be at particular risk, according to the researchers, based on autopsy reports that note that many of them had undocumented cardiovascular disease.

The study’s authors conclude that men over the age of 40 who desire to participate in a triathlon should first consult with their physician.

[Source: Medpage Today]