Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)?

Sudden Cardiac Death is defined as the sudden death of an individual due to a cardiovascular disorder, and more often occurs during exercise in young athletes.  Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes while training or participating in sport competition. Even athletes who appear healthy and have a normal preparticipation screening may have underlying heart abnormalities that can be life threatening.  SCA is 60% more likely to occur during exercise or sports activity, so athletes ae at greater risk.  Sudden Cardiac Arrest occurs suddenly and without warning as it is caused by the electrical system to the hear malfunctions, resulting in a disruption of the heart’s normal rhythm and the loss of its ability to deliver blood to the body.  If untreated within minutes, this abrupt disruption results in Sudden Cardiac Death, which affects more than 7,000 young adults annually.

What are ways to proactively prevent and screen for Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Screening using an electrocardiogram (ECG) and/or an echocardiogram can detect student-athletes at risk for conditions that can lead to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.  The American Heart Association recommends a pre-participation history and physical including 12 important cardiac elements.  The IHSA Pre-Participation Physical Evaluation-Medical History component includes these important cardiac elements.  Although not required, additional screening like those described above can be conducted if students or parents wish to do so.

What are the symptoms/warning signs of Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

1 in 300 youth has underlaying conditions that put them at risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest, but often they are unaware of their condition and have not experienced any obvious warning signs.  But according to a study published by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (2012), 72% of students that suffered from SCA were reported by their parents to have had at least one cardiovascular symptom before SCA.  They just didn’t recognize it as life threatening. That’s why it’s important to understand potential warnings of SCA:

·      Fainting/blackouts (especially during exercise)

·      Dizziness

·      Unusual fatigue/weakness

·      Chest pain

·      Shortness of breath

·      Nausea/vomiting

·      Palpitations (heart is beating unusually fast or skipping beats)

·      Family history of sudden cardiac arrest at age <50

ANY of these symptoms/warning signs that occur while exercising may necessitate further evaluation from a physician before returning to practice or a game.  

**Note that a student-athlete who exhibits unexplained fainting may be at greater risk for SCA because unexplained fainting is the number one warning sign of a potential heart condition.** 

What are ways to reactively act in case of someone enters Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

There is potential for effective reactive prevention of sudden cardiac death by having automated external defibrillators (AED’s) easily accessible and trained staff available. The presence of trained individuals and access to AEDs at sporting venues provides a potential means of early defibrillation, not only for athletes but also for spectators, coaches, officials, event staff and other attendees in the case of sudden cardiac arrest. Current Illinois legislation requires the presence of AEDs at athletic facilities.  It is advisable to have an Emergency Action Plan in place for all sport practice and competition sites that outlines the plan of action in case of the collapse of an athlete.  It is advisable to review and practice the emergency action plan with respective school personnel, coaches, on site medical personnel and local EMS.

Time is critical:  If not properly treated within minutes, SCA is fatal in 92% of cases.

Basic actions include:

·      Have a cell phone available at all venues

·      Immediately activate EMS

·      Immediately initiate continuous CPR (push hard, push fast, push often)

·      Use an AED


Sudden Cardiac Arrest Information

What is SCA

SCA vs. Heart Attack

What You Need to Know to Save a Life

NFHS Learn: Sudden Cardiac Arrest (this is a free online course offered by the National Federation of State High School Associations; to take the course, users will need to create an account; users who complete the course will receive a certificate of completion from the NFHS)


Kristoffer Larsen BIG Heart Memorial Foundation

Max Schewtich

Parent Heartwatch

Young Hearts for Life

mCore Athletes


Greg Holthaus Memorial Fund