Sudden cardiac arrest is leading cause of death in young athletes

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — According to a Mayo Clinic article from last June, sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the young athletes.

After the shocking event of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsing on the football field, heart health has been on the minds of many.

With athletes on the field, the court, or anywhere, the staggering statistic of sudden cardiac arrest being the leading cause of death for young athletes may shock parents.

So that brings up the question of why athletes specifically?

“We should remember that athletes are probably some of our — especially our younger athletes — are some of our healthiest people in our communities, but there are things that can cause sudden cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death,” Dr. Abinash Achrekar, Vice Chair of Internal Medicine in the cardiology division at UNM Health said.

A study from the Mayo Clinic says that most sudden cardiac deaths occur within adults who typically have heart disease.

It also mentions that roughly one and 50,000 to one and 80,000 young athletes die of sudden cardiac death each year.

Dr. Achrekar still says that these cases are rare.

“I think this article is trying to point out that if young athletes die, and it’s incredibly rare, a cardiac etiology may be the source of that death,” Dr. Achrekar said. 

When it comes to monitoring kids, teens and young adults in sports, it’s important to make sure they pass their physicals every year but family history is key in preventing events like this, too.

“If you’ve had a first-degree or even a second-degree relative that’s had sudden death, meaning they had a heart attack and they did not recover from it or they passed out and never woke up,” Dr. Achrekar said, “Those would be things that would pique my interest in having at least a visit to their primary care physician.”

There are different causes to keep in mind as well when looking at cardiac arrest in young adults and teens.

“Blunt force to the chest that can affect the electrical impulses in the heart,” Dr. Achrekar said. 

This is similar to what happened when Hamlin collapsed during the Bills and Bengals NFL game.

Other contributions to sudden cardiac arrest could be, “Those with really thick heart muscles, those that have had arrhythmias prior to this event, are at higher risk,” Dr. Achrekar said. 

One-way coaches and trainers can step up and help is by truly listening to athletes when something might be wrong and breaking the stigma of always being ‘okay’ when practicing or competing in a sport.

“I think being encouraged to be transparent, that they’re hearing this from their leadership, the coaches and their trainers would be really beneficial, especially to our youngest athletes,” Dr. Achrekar said. 

While these instances are still rare, the numbers are concerning enough to remain as a reminder to check up on your kids and young athletes to help prevent these emergencies from taking place in the future.