Cardiac ArrestSudden cardiac arrest claims a student athlete every three days in the United States. Children with undetected heart conditions typically appear very healthy and many children never exhibit any signs or symptoms until sudden cardiac arrest occurs. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) happens without warning. The sudden loss of heart function affects 1,000 to 7,000 children, adolescents and young adults each year in the United States.

Signs and symptoms

Sudden cardiac arrest has warning signs and symptoms that can go unnoticed. It is important to recognize the following:

  • Discomfort, pain or pressure in chest during or after exercise.
  • Fainting or near-fainting during or after exercise, emotion or surprise
  • Dizziness/lightheadedness.
  • Extreme fatigue associated with exercise.
  • Extreme shortness of breath associated with exercise.
  • Skipping or racing heartbeats.
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of sudden death prior to age 50 or known heart abnormalities.
  • Close relative with heart conditions.

At least 50 percent of the diagnoses that cause sudden cardiac death are genetic. Often, children and adolescents do not notify an adult about these symptoms. It is important to monitor those who have a congenital heart abnormality or are experiencing any signs and symptoms. Not all episodes of sudden cardiac arrest are preventable because many of the kids do not have symptoms until they have the episode.

A thorough detailed family history and annual physical examination is a critical step. This physical captures information intended to alert physicians of a patient’s possible undiagnosed heart problems. Cook Children’s even offers Sports EKGs for $25 in the following clinics: Arlington, Denton, Mansfield and Southlake.

If your child is diagnosed with a heart condition, there are many precautionary steps that can be taken to prevent the likely outcome of sudden cardiac arrest including lifestyle modifications, medication, surgical treatments, and implanting a pacemaker and/or implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD).

Even with the best screening methods, however, some silent heart conditions still will go undetected despite the best efforts of the family, medical community and school. For this reason, secondary prevention strategies are important.

Secondary prevention: resuscitation

Children and adults who experience a sudden cardiac event with ventricular fibrillation can often be successfully treated with early CPR and rapid defibrillation with the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). The single greatest factor affecting survival is time. So recognition of the emergency is critical. Target goal: under 5 minutes from collapse to first shock (and effective CPR immediately and until AED arrives). On average it takes EMS 6-12 minutes to arrive at the scene. The brain can only wait 3 to 5 minutes.

What you can do?

Ask questions when you sign your child up for any athletic activity.

  • Are coaches CPR/AED certified?
  • Availability of medical personnel, Athletic Trainer, Nurse, EMS, etc
  • Availability of automatic external defibrillator (AED) at gyms, practice fields, athletic complex
  • If you or your child has had cardiac issues or there is a family history of it make sure that your child’s coaches, athletic trainers, and school nurse are aware of it.
  • Be prepared – as spectators you are in a position to save a life.
  • Learn the Chain of Survival – Become trained in CPR and AED use.

Laura Friend is the Project ADAM (Automated Defibrillators in Adam’s Memory) coordinator for Cook Children’s. Cook Children’s is the only Project ADAM affiliate for Texas. Project ADAM Texas helps implement AED programs in schools and provides everything schools need to plan and develop their program, including emergency planning templates, education and materials. Just three weeks shy from turning 13 years old, Friend’s daughter, Sarah, collapsed climbing the stairs of a water coaster and was not resuscitated. She died of a cardiac arrest due to a heart disease, unknown to the family, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a thickening of the heart muscles or enlarged heart.