Young Athletes at Higher Risk of Sudden Cardiac Arrest, Warns Medical Experts

Emerging Health Concerns Highlight Risks Faced by Young Athletes

by Nouman Rasool
Young Athletes at Higher Risk of Sudden Cardiac Arrest, Warns Medical Experts

Higher susceptibility to sudden cardiac arrest has been identified among athletes under the age of 25 who engage in basketball, soccer, and American football, according to medical experts. This concerning trend is particularly noticeable in athletes who are at the tail end of puberty and experiencing their final growth spurt.

During this phase, hormone levels surge, and the heart approaches its peak maturity. Recent studies have illuminated a worrisome rise in the occurrence of cardiac arrest in young athletes. Dr. Charles Webb, the director of sports medicine at LSU Health Shreveport, points out the growing participation in sports as a contributing factor.

With approximately 8 million high school athletes and 500,000 college athletes in the United States, more individuals are embracing physical activity, resulting in an uptick of such incidents, which are now being meticulously documented in sports literature.

While sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes remains a rare occurrence, it is imperative to understand its underlying causes. In both the United States and Europe, congenital defects within the heart itself stand out as the primary causes of cardiac arrest for individuals under the age of 25.

Dr. Webb clarifies that the scenario changes beyond the age of 25, with coronary artery disease, cholesterol plaque, and artery blockages assuming a more prominent role in causing cardiac arrests.

Youthful Athletes Vulnerable to Inherited Cardiac Risks

However, for the demographic of athletes under 25, especially high school and college athletes, congenital malformations such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HOCM) are the chief culprits.

HOCM, an inherited condition, is not a gradual defect but rather an inherent trait inherited from family members. Regrettably, there is no preemptive action one can take to avert its occurrence. In the quest to detect HOCM, electrocardiograms (EKGs) have emerged as a vital tool.

Astonishingly, EKGs have the potential to identify 93% of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy cases. However, it should be noted that implementing extensive EKG screenings for all high school and collegiate athletes comes with substantial financial implications.

This emphasizes the importance of diligently furnishing comprehensive family medical histories during athletes' physical screenings. In addition, it's noteworthy that factors like race and gender can also influence the likelihood of experiencing cardiac arrest.

Statistics reveal that an alarming nine out of ten instances of sudden cardiac arrests occurring outside of hospital settings prove to be fatal, as per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In light of these findings, medical professionals stress the need for heightened awareness and increased preventive measures, including enhanced screening protocols and education about risk factors.