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Sudden Cardiac Arrest In Athletes (INFOGRAPHIC)

Author: Niki L. Carayannopoulos, DO

Though rare, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a significant concern in the athletic community here in Houston and throughout the world. SCA is a term used to describe the sudden and unexpected disruption of blood flow, which results in death if immediate treatment is not provided.

An infographic from National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) shares key insights into this condition, which results in the death of 2,000 patients under age 25 every year in the United States. See the infographic below for more information.

What Causes Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

NATA tells us…

    • SCA is usually caused by an electrical disturbance in the heart that disrupts pumping. A heart attack, for comparison, is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart.
    • The cause of SCA in athletes is unknown. However, young athletes with underlying heart conditions are at greater risk during vigorous exercise.
    • Commotio cordis accounts for approximately 20% of SCA deaths in young athletes. Commotio cordis is caused by a blunt, non-penetrating blow to the chest. It induces ventricular arrhythmia in an otherwise structurally normal heart.

How Can You Prepare for Cardiac Emergencies?

    • Schools, clubs and sports facilities should have emergency action plans that include a response plan for SCA events.
    • All facilities where sports are played should have automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) within one to three minutes.
    • Schools, clubs and sports facilities should have someone on staff trained in CPR.
    • When CPR is provided and an AED shock is administered within the first three to five minutes after a collapse, reported survival rates from cardiac arrest are as high as 74%.

Signs & Symptoms of Cardiac Arrest In Athletes

While many young cardiac arrest victims have no symptoms until the cardiac arrest occurs, there are sometimes symptoms, which vary among males and females.

    • Male athletes may experience chest, ear or neck pain, severe headache, excessive breathlessness, vague discomfort, dizziness, palpitations, abnormal fatigue, indigestion or heartburn.
    • Female athletes may experience 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.

Discover Your Screening Options

All athletes should undergo a basic cardiovascular screening prior to athletic activity. This should include a physical exam and a comprehensive review of the athlete’s medical history and family history. Talk to your sports medicine doctor or primary care provider to learn more. Additionally, some athletes may be advised to have an electrocardiogram (ECG), which may help identify underlying cardiac conditions that could elevate SCA risk. At this time, however, ECGs are not commonly used for this type of screening. Again, talk to your primary care provider to learn more.

Schedule With a Houston Sports Medicine Doctor

For other Houston sports medicine needs, schedule an appointment at Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics. Call (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.