Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Sports: Be Safe and Prepared
Between 1 in 40,000 and 1 in 80,000 athletes experience sudden cardiac arrest each year, even very young and healthy athletes. This life-threatening condition occurs when the heart stops pumping, leading to fainting, loss of blood flow, and loss of breathing.
In athletes, sudden cardiac arrest usually occurs due to undiagnosed heart conditions like cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart muscle) or a valve problem. While it’s not always possible to spot these conditions before they cause symptoms, athletes should undergo a physical exam every year that they participate in sports.
Risks for Sudden Cardiac Arrest
You may be at a higher risk for sudden cardiac arrest if:
- You have been diagnosed with heart disease or other heart conditions.
- You smoke or use alcohol.
- You have a family or personal history of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
- You are an older athlete.
- You are male.
- You are black.
- You play basketball.
You should always talk to your doctor about your heart health and risks for sudden cardiac arrest before starting any new form of exercise. The right treatment, lifestyle changes, and precautions can help lower your risk and keep you safe.
Signs of Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Cardiac arrest happens fast. Typically, the athlete will suddenly collapse during a game or practice. They may show other signs of the condition, such as:
- No pulse
- No breathing
- Loss of consciousness
An athlete may also complain of chest pain or discomfort, trouble breathing, or heart palpitations before fainting. Athletes who experience these symptoms should be allowed to rest and should be monitored by medical personnel. Even if sudden cardiac arrest does not occur, you should see your doctor about these symptoms.
What to Do If an Athlete Suffers Cardiac Arrest
If you believe an athlete is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, you should:
- Call 911 immediately
- Begin CPR or chest compressions
- Use a portable defibrillator (AED) to shock the heart back into motion
To save the lives of athletes, it is vital that all coaches and trainers are CPR certified and understand how to use a defibrillator. At Bon Secours In Motion Sports Performance, we encourage all schools and sports leagues to provide this training to parents, coaches, and anyone else who may be involved in sports practices and games. We also encourage schools to keep an AED within easy reach of any areas where athletes are practicing, such as in gyms, locker rooms, and at outdoor fields.
Seconds can save athletes’ lives. Be prepared for sudden cardiac arrest so you can take action to help athletes.