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While the risk of sudden cardiac arrest is very small in youth athletes, the impacts can be catastrophic. Being prepared can save lives.

What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a condition in which the heart unexpectedly stops beating, halting blood flow to the brain and vital organs. Sudden cardiac arrest is usually caused by an electrical disturbance in the heart that disrupts the heart from pumping. Sudden cardiac arrest is not a heart attack.

Death can occur within minutes if the victim does not receive medical care.

Who is at risk of sudden cardiac arrest?

SCA can affect anyone at any age or time. According to the American Heart Association, it is estimated that more than 350,000 people suffer from sudden cardiac arrest each month.

The cause of SCA is completely understood, but most SCA happens in people with underlying, undiagnosed heart conditions.1  Research has found that a family history of cardiac arrest in an immediate family member is associated with an approximate 2-fold increased risk of SCA.

How to prevent sudden cardiac arrest?

A pre-participation physical examination should be completed and a review of a standardized medical history form should be completed each year.

How to recognize sudden cardiac arrest?

Signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest in males

  • Chest, ear or neck pain
  • Severe headache
  • Excessive breathlessness
  • Vague discomfort
  • Dizziness, palpitations
  • Abnormal fatigue
  • Indigestion, heartburn

Signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest in females

  • Center chest pain that comes and goes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath with or without discomfort
  • Pressure, squeezing, fullness
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Cold sweat
  • Pain or discomfort in arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach

It is important to note that many young cardiac arrest victims have no symptoms until the cardiac arrest occurs. Sudden cardiac arrest should be suspected in any athlete who has collapsed and is unresponsive.

How do you treat sudden cardiac arrest?

According to the 2015 American Heart Association statistical update, SCA in youth athletes has more than a 50% survival rate when prompt recognition and response is followed. When CPR is provided and an AED shock is administered within the first 1 to 3 minutes after a collapse, the reported survival rates from cardiac arrest are as high as 74%.

Sudden cardiac arrest results in death if it is not treated within minutes. The CDC estimates that more than 2,000 patients under the age of 25 die of sudden cardiac arrest every year in the united states.

If you suspect cardiac arrest, call 911 and begin CPR and have someone else retrieve an AED (if available). CPR should be performed on anyone who is unresponsive and not breathing normally. An AED provides the greatest chance of survival. If an AED is available, use it – simply turn it on and follow the prompts. Your actions could save someone’s life.

How to prepare for cardiac emergencies?

  • Schools, clubs and sports facilities should have venue specific emergency action plans that include a response plan for sudden cardiac arrest events.
  • All facilities where sports are played should have working automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) available within a 1 to 3 minute walk.
  • Schools, clubs and sports facilities should have someone on staff trained in CPR and the use of an AED.
  • If you are at a public event, look for an AED and be prepared to act.
  • Become CPR trained in case of an emergency.