Sudden cardiac arrest happens when the heart suddenly stops working and can no longer function properly. It occurs in more than 350,000 individuals in the United States yearly. While heart related deaths occur much less frequently in young people, it is especially devastating to families, schools and the extended community when young, apparently healthy people die unexpectedly.
February is Heart Month, a good time to review signs and symptoms that can be associated with an increased risk of sudden cardiac death.
Signs and Symptoms
James Galas, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist on staff at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, part of the Detroit Medical Center, has an interest in providing public awareness programs to the community.
“Studies suggest that in the majority of cases of sudden cardiac death, the athlete does not recognize symptoms until the actual cardiac arrest,” Dr. Galas says.
Though sudden cardiac arrest may come without warning, such as when a young athlete collapses suddenly after strenuous competition or exercise, he emphasizes that it is important to be aware of signs and symptoms that could signal a young person is at risk of a sudden cardiac event. Awareness of any family members with serious heart disease is often helpful as well.
Talk to a medical professional if you or someone you know has any of the following signs or symptoms:
- Symptoms with exercise:
- Sudden, unexplained fainting
- Unexplained seizures
- Shortness of breath, not explained by a more common health issue such as asthma
- Racing or fluttering heartbeats
- Family history of sudden heart related death before the age of 50
Some causes of sudden cardiac arrest include:
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) , an abnormally thick heart muscle
- Coronary artery abnormalities
- Long QT syndrome (LQTS), an inherited heart rhythm disorder that can cause the heart to beat fast, irregularly and inefficiently
- Previously unrecognized heart defects
- Heart muscle abnormalities
- Inflammation of the heart from another illness
- Cardiac arrhythmias, a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system
- Commotio Cordis, a blow to the heart that causes an arrhythmia
When a person goes into sudden cardiac arrest, seconds and minutes can mean the difference between life and death. When someone is unresponsive and not breathing, call 911 and take action to help the victim. Learning CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and how to use an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) can save a life. Courses are offered regularly through the American Heart Association. If you or someone you know has experienced any of the signs or symptoms mentioned above, please contact your primary care physician.
The Children's Hospital of Michigan offers pediatric cardiology services at specialty centers in Clinton Township, Detroit and Troy. For further information or to schedule an appointment call (313) 745-KIDS or toll-free at (888) 362-2500.