Mechanically induced sudden death in chest wall impact (commotio cordis)

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37 Scopus citations


Sudden death due to nonpenetrating chest wall impact in the absence of injury to the ribs, sternum and heart is known as commotio cordis. Although once thought rare, an increasing number of these events have been reported. Indeed, a significant percentage of deaths on the athletic field are due to chest wall impact. Commotio cordis is most frequently observed in young individuals (age 4-18 years), but may also occur in adults. Sudden death is instantaneous or preceded by several seconds of lightheadedness after the chest wall blow. Victims are most often found in ventricular fibrillation, and successful resuscitation is more difficult than expected given the young age, excellent health of the victims, and the absence of structural heart disease. Autopsy examination is notable for the lack of any significant cardiac or thoracic abnormalities. In an experimental model of commotio cordis utilizing anesthetized juvenile swine, ventricular fibrillation can be produced by a 30mph baseball strike if the strike occurred during the vulnerable period of repolarization, on the upslope of the T-wave. Energy of the impact object was also found to be a critical variable with 40mph baseballs more likely to cause ventricular fibrillation than velocities less or greater than 40mph. In addition, more rigid impact objects and blows directly over the center of the chest were more likely to cause ventricular fibrillation. Peak left ventricular pressure generated by the chest wall blow correlated with the risk of ventricular fibrillation. Activation of the KATP+ channel is a likely cause of the ventricular fibrillation produced by chest wall blows. Successful resuscitation is attainable with early defibrillation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-186
Number of pages12
JournalProgress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 2003


  • Athletes
  • Commotio cordis
  • Sudden death
  • Ventricular fibrillation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Molecular Biology


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