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OBJECTIVES: The goals of this review are to evaluate the quality of the evidence on the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest and death (SCA/D) in athletes and military members; and to estimate annual incidence of SCA/D. DATA SOURCES: MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane CENTRAL, Web of Science, BIOSIS, Scopus, SPORT discus, PEDro, and were searched from inception to dates between 2/21/19-7/29/19. STUDY SELECTION: Studies which reported incidence of SCA/D or both in athletes, or military members under age 40 were eligible for inclusion. 40 studies were identified for inclusion Data Extraction: Risk of bias was assessed using a validated, customized tool for prevalence studies in all included studies. 12 were found to be low ROB, with the remaining 28 moderate or high ROB. Data was extracted for narrative review, and meta-analysis. DATA SYNTHESIS: Random-effects meta-analysis was performed in studies judged to be low risk of bias in two separate categories: 5 studies on regional or national level data including athletes at all levels, and both sexes included 130 events of SCD, with a total of 11,272,560 athlete years showing a cumulative incidence rate of 0.98 [95%CI: 0.62, 1.53] per 100,000 athlete years, with high heterogeneity with I2 of 78%; 3 Studies on competitive athletes aged 14 to 25 were combined, and included 183 events, and 17,798758 athlete years showing an incidence rate of 1.91[95%CI: 0.71; 5.14] per 100,000 athlete years with high heterogeneity with I2 of 97%. The remaining low risk of bias studies were in military members, and were not synthesized. CONCLUSION: The worldwide incidence of SCD is a rare event. Low risk of bias studies indicate incidence to be below 2 per 100,000 athlete years. Overall, the quality of the evidence available is low, but there are high quality individual studies to inform the question of incidence levels. PROSPERO Registration: CRD42019125560.

Original publication




Journal article


J Athl Train

Publication Date



athletes, incidence, military, sudden cardiac arrest, sudden cardiac death