Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Six Key Facts
1. Sudden cardiac arrest is the number one cause of sudden death in exercising young athletes.
It usually strikes without warning in individuals with a structural or electrical abnormality of the heart, often inherited. Males, African-Americans and male basketball players are at increased risk.
2. No method of detecting heart problems in athletes is perfect.
A comprehensive medical history and physical exam is required for all young athletes before they participate in sports. Some medical experts are adding a screening electrocardiogram (EKG) to the standard pre-participation physical exam.
3. In some cases, warning signs or symptoms can help identify an athlete at risk of a sudden cardiac arrest
Signs of a potentially risky heart condition include fainting or passing out during exercise; excessive shortness of breath or chest pain with exercise; palpitations (heart racing) for no reason; and unexplained seizures.
4. Until proven otherwise, you should suspect sudden cardiac arrest in any collapsed and unresponsive athlete.
Unless effective emergency steps are taken immediately, death or serious disability will occur.
5. Every team should have—and practice—an emergency action plan for sudden cardiac arrest.
It is critical to review and practice your emergency action plan in the preseason with all personnel who may be involved in the emergency response.
6. Life-saving measures include calling 9-1-1, immediate chest compressions (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), and shocking the athlete with an AED as soon as possible.
Early initiation of all of these measures is important. Early defibrillation (shock) with an automated external defibrillator (AED) is the most important factor for survival. A few minutes’ delay can be the difference between life and death.