Student Athlete Suddent 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.
    • SCA is usually caused by an electrical disturbance in the heart that disrupts pumping, while a heart attack is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart.
    • SCA results in death if not treated within minutes.
    • 2,000 patients under age 25 die of SCA every year in the U.S., the Center for Disease Control estimates.
    • The cause of SCA in athletes is unknown, however, young athletes with underlying heart conditions are at greater risk during vigorous exercise.

    Commotio Cordis

    • Commotio Cordis is caused by a blunt, nonpenetrating blow to the chest. It includes ventricular arrhythmia in an otherwise structurally normal heart.
    • Commotio Cordis accounts for approximately 20 percent of sudden cardiac deaths in young athletes.

    Preparing 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 1-3 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 3 to 5 minutes after a collapse, reported survival rates from cardiac arrest are as high as 74%

    Screening Athletes for Cardiovascular Issues

    • Athletes should undergo cardiovascular screening before athletic participation.
    • A minimum standard of cardiovascular screening should include a comprehensive medical history, family history and physical exam.
    • An electrocardiogram (ECG) can help identify underlying cardiac conditions that put athletes at greater risk. However, it’s not a universal standard right now because of cost, physician infrastructure, and sensitivity and specificity concerns.

    Signs and Symptoms of Cardiac Arrest in Athletes

    Male Athletes

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

    Female Athletes

    • 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

    Note: Many young cardiac arrest victims have no symptoms until the cardiac arrest occurs.


    Sources: NATA, Korey Stringer Institute, American Heart Association