According to BostonScientific.com, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is the leading cause of death among young athletes. The most common cause of SCA is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a disease that causes thickening of the heart muscle, which can restrict the amount of blood flow to the heart during exercise. Sudden cardiac arrest causes a dangerously fast heart rate, which can lead to death if not treated immediately. While some athletes suffering from HCM may present symptoms such as chest pain, fainting or a heart murmur, many youth athletes show no signs of danger until it is too late.
Although they lead active and healthy lifestyles, young athletes are more than twice as likely to suffer from sudden cardiac arrest when compared to non-athletes. These are important questions to ask/answer during pre-season sports physical to help prevent sudden cardiac arrest in youth athletes:
- Have you ever passed out when startled, during exercise, or when experiencing a strong emotion?
- Have you fainted or passed out after exercise?
- Have you had extreme fatigue associated with exercise?
- Have you ever had unusual or extreme shortness of breath during exercise?
- Have you ever had discomfort, pain, or pressure in your chest during exercise?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with an unexplained seizure disorder?
In addition to understanding the warning signs that youth athlete might be at risk for SCA, it’s important that sports organizations and league administrators train their staff, volunteers and coaches how to recognize SCA on the field/court and how to respond appropriately. According to the American Heart Association the chance of survival from sudden cardiac arrest decreases by 7 to 10 percent with every minute. Making sure your entire staff and all your sports volunteers are certified in CPR can help save a young athlete’s life. Having an automated external defibrillator (AED) close at hand is also critical. If an athlete collapses on the field it’s imperative that you contact 911 immediately.
It’s crucial that your league have an emergency plan in place should a player ever suffer from SCA and that everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to do. Every minute counts and confusion and hesitation might cost a young athlete their life.