Young Athletes

Young Athletes & Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

Of the more than 350,000 deaths that occur as a result of SCA each year, you might assume that only older adults need worry about this deadly condition. Think again. Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes.1 Most often, the death occurs during athletic training or competition.1

What is SCA? 

Often just called cardiac arrest, sudden cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning. Electrical problems in the heart cause a dangerously fast heart rate that interrupts blood flow. With pumping disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to the body's vital organs. Within seconds, a person loses consciousness and has no pulse.  If SCA is not treated immediately, it can lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD) within minutes. 

Fast Facts: Young Athletes & SCA

  • In the United States, a young competitive athlete dies suddenly every three days.1
  • Young athletes are more than twice as likely to experience SCD than young non-athletes.3
  • Most victims are male (90%).4,5
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the leading cardiovascular cause of SCD (36%) in young athletes.2 (HCM is a disease that causes thickening of the heart muscle.) 
  • More than half of HCM sudden death victims are black athletes (52%).2,4
  • The average age when SCD occurs in young athletes is 17.5 years.4
  • The risk of SCD increases with age.1
  • More than two thirds of young athletes who die suddenly are basketball and football players (67%).2

Risk & Prevention  

Young athletes with the following risk factors have a greater risk of SCA:

  • Family history of unexpected, unexplained sudden death in a young person
  • Fainting (syncope) or seizure during exercise, excitement or when startled
  • Consistent or unusual chest pain and/or shortness of breath during exercise.

Coaches are key to preventing SCA in young athletes. With careful screening, coaches can refer athletes at risk to a heart doctor.

Learn how coaches can help prevent SCA

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This information is not a substitute for medical care. Please consult a doctor or health care provider.

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