Sports Injuries: Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when your adolescent or teen’s heart suddenly develops a dangerously high heart rate, causing the heart to stop effectively pumping blood throughout the body. This usually happens because of an undiagnosed heart disorder. Since sudden cardiac arrest is more likely during exercise or physical activity, athletes are at an increased risk.

With early detection and pre-screening for increased risk factors of sudden cardiac arrest, it is possible to prevent this complication.

Sudden cardiac arrest can be life-threatening, so it must be treated immediately with Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED).

Care At Children’s

Children’s Nebraska of Omaha is nationally recognized for the care and management of heart disorders. We have pediatric cardiologists and electrophysiologists as part of the Sports Medicine Clinic team to ensure that your young athlete is getting care from a diverse, expert staff.

Risk Factors For Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Your young athlete may take a pre-participation physical exam, which includes cardiovascular screening to check for risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest.

We may refer your teen to a cardiologist or for more tests if the pre-participation physical exam shows:

  • Chest pain or discomfort with exercise or activity
  • Fainting or passing out related to exercise or activity
  • Excessive or unexplained shortness of breath with exercise or activity
  • Unusual or unexplained fatigue or dizziness with exercise or activity
  • Palpitations (racing heart) associated with exercise or activity
  • Prior history of a heart murmur, prior heart evaluation, or prior restrictions from competitive sports due to a heart condition
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history identifying one or more relatives with unexpected death before age 50 because of known heart disease or a sudden or unexplained death
  • Special knowledge of a family history of certain heart conditions, including hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy, long QT syndromes, Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT), Brugada syndrome, Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy or Marfan’s syndrome

Causes Of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes is usually caused by a structural or electrical disorder of the heart. Many of these conditions are inherited (genetic) and can develop as a child, adolescent, or young adult. Sudden cardiac arrest can also occur from a direct blow to the chest (e.g., from projectiles like baseballs or hockey pucks, another player), drug or stimulant use, or heat stroke.

Sudden cardiac arrest is more likely during exercise or physical activity, placing athletes with undiagnosed heart conditions at greater risk.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Recognition And Treatment

  • Young athletes who suffer sudden cardiac arrest may faint or collapse, become unresponsive, and may appear to have brief seizure-like activity or abnormal breathing (gasping).
  • Every second counts. Call 9-1-1 as soon as you suspect sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest can be effectively treated by immediate recognition, prompt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and quick access to an automated external defibrillator.
  • Defibrillators are safe, portable devices that read and analyze the heart rhythm and provide an electrical shock (if necessary) to restore a normal heart rhythm. They are very easy to use — just turn on and follow the voice prompts. CPR is still advised when no pulse is detected.
  • Survival rates decrease by 10% with each minute of delay.
  • There is a 5- to 6-minute window before death or irreparable brain damage occurs.

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