An experimental model of sudden death due to low-energy chest-wall impact (commotio cordis)

The New England Journal of Medicine
M S LinkN A Estes


The syndrome of sudden death due to low-energy trauma to the chest wall (commotio cordis) has been described in young sports participants, but the mechanism is unknown. We developed a swine model of commotio cordis in which a low-energy impact to the chest wall was produced by a wooden object the size and weight of a regulation baseball. This projectile was thrust at a velocity of 30 miles per hour and was timed to the cardiac cycle. We first studied 18 young pigs, 6 subjected to multiple chest impacts and 12 to single impacts. Of the 10 impacts occurring within the window from 30 to 15 msec before the peak of the T wave on the electrocardiogram, 9 produced ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation was not produced by impacts at any other time during the cardiac cycle. Of the 10 impacts sustained during the QRS complex, 4 resulted in transient complete heart block. We also studied whether the use of safety baseballs, which are softer than standard ones, would reduce the risk of arrhythmia. A total of 48 additional animals sustained up to three impacts during the T-wave window of vulnerability to ventricular fibrillation with a regulation baseball and safety baseballs of three degrees of hardness. We found that the like...Continue Reading


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