A new study published by the American Heart Association has found that about one in 44,000 college athletes suffer sudden cardiac death each year, which is higher than what earlier estimates supposed.

The findings based on news reports, insurance claims and data from the NCAA show that between 2004 and 2008, 56 percent (45) of fatalities among young athletes linked to medical reasons were cardiovascular-related sudden deaths. Basketball had the highest risk of sudden cardiac death, with a rate of one in 11,394. In fact, the risk of sudden cardiac death in Division I male basketball athletes was about one in 3,000. Swimming had the second-highest risk, followed by lacrosse, football and cross-country track.

Also, the incidence of death was found to be higher among African-American athletes as compared with their Caucasian competitors.

The greatest significance of the findings lies in the implications that they may have for health screening guidelines for youths in organized sports, according to researchers. Incidence rates often determine whether screening for young athletes should include an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram.

You have to revisit the whole question of whether a more extensive screening makes sense in light of these new numbers, said Harmon, a team physician at the University of Washington. The question is: where do you set the risk cutoff - one in 10,000, or 40,000, or 100,000?

With the presently available statistics, targeting high risk groups such as basketball players or swimmers for more extensive screening than the usual norm could be practical, feels Harmon. She also suggests that automated external defibrillators, used to revive people whose hearts have stopped, be placed in venues where the highest-risk sports are played.