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Sudden Cardiac Arrest

How Much Do You Know About Sudden Cardiac Arrest?


Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart abruptly stops functioning.

What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart abruptly stops functioning. When the heart is no longer pumping blood to the brain and other vital organs, death can occur within minutes. “While not common, sudden cardiac arrest is more devastating in young people,” 

What Causes Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Some of the most common causes are:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – A thickening of the heart muscle, causing an enlarged heart.
  • Coronary artery abnormalities – Abnormality or malformation of the blood vessels that supply the blood to the heart muscle.
  • Long QT syndrome – A disturbance of the heart’s electrical system causing an abnormal heartbeat.
  • Myocarditis – Inflammation of the heart’s muscle, usually caused by a virus.

It is important to remember that asthma and other non-cardiac diseases can also lead to sudden death.

What are the Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Condition?

  • Fainting (syncope) or seizure during or after physical activity
  • Chest pain or discomfort with physical activity
  • Dizziness/lightheadedness during or after physical activity
  • Unusual shortness of breath, fatigue or tiredness
  • Fainting or seizure resulting from emotional excitement, emotional distress or startle
  • Unexplained fainting or seizures
  • Unexplained heart murmur
  • Racing heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of unexpected sudden death during physical activity or during a seizure, or any other unexplained sudden death of an otherwise healthy family member under age 50
  • Family history of heart diseases known to be inherited including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, long QT syndrome, and Marfan’s syndrome

Are Athletes at Greater Risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

  • Cardiac arrest can strike all young people. The risk is up to four times greater in competitive athletes. According to some experts, a high school student dies of cardiac arrest as often as every three days.
  • During most episodes of sudden cardiac arrest, the heart’s electrical system is what is affected; the heart beats in a very rapid and irregular way, and no blood is pumped to the body. The heart’s “electricity” must be reset, typically through electrical shock (defibrillation).
  • Once a cardiac arrest occurs, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation are required within the first several minutes to restore electrical activity to the heart and revive the heart’s pumping function.
  • Availability of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) and individuals trained in basic life support are critical for rapid response.

What Can You Do to Help Prevent Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

  • Be educated about your family health history
  • Ask questions about your child’s heart health
  • Take any symptoms seriously and ask for additional cardiac evaluation
  • Find out if your child’s school, sporting events and practices are equipped with an AED and trained staff
  • Learn CPR and AED use