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SCA for Athletes 101


SCA is the leading cause of death in young athletes. Of the large youth population in the US, SCA is 2.5 times more frequent among young athletes than non-athletes. 


At a rate of one sudden cardiac death every three days, the US Sudden Death in Youth Athletes Registry cites that SCA kills upwards of 100 of these athletes in the US every year. Male and black athletes are even more vulnerable. 


Why Makes Athletes so Susceptible to SCA?


Underlying structural heart anomalies manifest in athletes via SCA because of the routine vigorous exercise that they do. These underlying heart diseases are exacerbated and can cause ventricular arrhythmias. 


The AHA associated the following conditions with SCA in youth athletes:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (36%)

  • Coronary artery abnormalities (19%)

  • Myocarditis (7%)

  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (5%)

  • Coronary artery disease (4%)

  • Commotio Cordis (3%)


Prevent SCA with EKG Screening Programs

Causes of SCA are not easily predictable, but thankfully, risk factors are identifiable with non-invasive cardiac imaging called an echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram (EKG).

Communities across the country are making incredible efforts to include these screening programs into routine pediatric health check-ups. They are advocating to implement these programs in schools to identify such health risks. 

Survival: CPR and the Role of an AED

To survive SCA means that emergency response and therapy must be nearly immediate. For every minute a victim has to wait for defibrillation therapy, their survival rate drops about 7-10%. [2] There are well documented and easy-to-follow training and sequences of action to address an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. 

In the event of a witnessed or suspected cardiac arrest, the best thing a responder should do is to call for help ("911") and to administer good quality chest compressions. This type of bystander intervention can buy a victim valuable time and can increase the victim's chances of survival by three times! When unconscious, the victim is not getting the proper blood supply to their organs. Chest compressions are essential to maintain blood supply and increase the victim’s chances of survival.


Shocking a victim with a defibrillator is the best chance a victim has to survive a cardiac arrest. The defibrillator will get the heart to pump by itself and the sooner the happens, the more likely the victim will survive. 


Delayed shocks to a “shockable” heart rhythm can mean death, debilitating brain and organ damage, or both. This is avoidable with a timely AED shock meaning that AEDs must be, at most, a few minutes away. 


To boost SCA survival rates, schools, athletic departments, and places dense with youth are seeking to make CPR and AEDs widely accessible through comprehensive training and proper equipping of sports venues. Institutions where AEDs are mandated and properly implemented with CPR, report a rise in survival rates as high as 70%. [3]





[1] Benjamin, E., et al. (2018). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2018 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association

[2] American Heart Association, "Part 4: The Automated External Defibrillator: Key Link In The Chain Of Survival", Circulation 102, no. 1 (2000): I-60-I-76, doi:10.1161/01.cir.102.suppl_1.i-60.

[3] Rothmier, J., & Drezner, J. (2009). The Role of Automated External Defibrillators in Athletics. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 1(1), 16-20. doi: 10.1177/1941738108326979

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