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Every year in the United States, more than 355,000 people die when their hearts suddenly and unexpectedly stop beating. Known as Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), this syndrome happens without warning and instantly stops the flow of blood to the brain and vital organs. It proves fatal in 92 percent of cases if not properly treated within minutes.
Sudden cardiac arrest is not a heart attack, which happens when a blocked blood vessel prevents blood from flowing to the heart, typically not occurring before age 35. SCA is caused by a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system that abruptly halts the heartbeat. These malfunctions are most often caused by an arrhythmia—an irregular heart beat, or a structural problem. A variety of heart conditions can be congenital (present at birth) or can grow over time. Some conditions are hereditary, which is why knowing your extended family’s heart history is an important inclusion in your child’s medical record.
SCA can happen at any age, which includes thousands of youth annually. Sadly, there is no national registry recording the true incidence of sudden cardiac arrest in youth. What’s more, many unexplained young deaths are attributed to “natural causes” in the absence of the expertise to consider a pre-existing heart condition as the real cause of death, so the true incidence is likely more than estimated totals. Currently, a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health is working to develop a Sudden Death in the Young Case Registry to rectify this and ultimately influence better prevention standards.
1Journal of Athletic Training & AHA’s Circulation 2National Athletic Trainer’s Association 3University of Washington/Drezner (uwmedicine.org) 4American Heart Association Heart & Stroke Statistics Update 2018 52014 IOC World Conference of Prevention of Injury & Illness in Sport 62014 IOC World Conference of Prevention of Injury & Illness in Sport 7Journal of American College of Cardiology