Annual pre-participation physicals can help prevent cardiac arrest in young athletes. Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly. With its pumping action disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. This can cause sudden cardiac death in a matter of minutes.
Signs of Cardiac Arrest
- sudden collapse
- no pulse
- no breathing
- loss of consciousness
Cardiac arrest is possible to survive if the child receives immediate medical care via cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or an automated external defibrillator (AED), a device that delivers an electrical shock to help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm.
Medical Conditions That Can Lead to Cardiac Arrest
- heart disease
- heart attack
- enlarged heart
- electrical problems in the heart
- electrical shock
- an injury to the heart at the wrong moment in the heart’s cycle
Other Risk Factors
- health supplements
- energy drinks
- illegal drug use
- not being truthful about medical conditions
Barbara Mostella, RN, Pediatric Cardiology Clinic supervisor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Children’s of Alabama, said it is important for young athletes to have an annual medical exam by a physician before playing sports. “Even though any young person can have a cardiac arrest, athletes are at a higher risk with competitive exercise if there is an underlying heart condition.”
Children’s and UAB Pediatric Cardiology established Alabama LifeStart to encourage schools to have AEDs readily available and establish an emergency action plan with trained personnel. “The preventive measures encouraged during this initiative provides the school staff with a means to help save a child’s life in the event of a cardiac arrest,” Mostella said.
A Preventive Checklist
- Annual Medical Exams
- In Alabama, the state requires high school athletes to have an annual medical exam/pre-participation physical by a physician. A physician who knows your child’s medical history is the best person to perform the exam. If you choose to use a school sports physician, the medical report should be sent to your child’s regular pediatrician to review and keep on file with their medical records.
- A screening or medical form questionnaire is also required and should be completed truthfully. The screening includes questions about your child’s medical and family history.
- Symptoms – if these occur during or after exercise, they should not be ignored and evaluated immediately by a medical professional
- unusual shortness of breath
- chest pain
- rapid heartbeat
- If symptoms occur, special tests may be required (electrocardiogram or EKG, echocardiogram, stress test, etc.) to determine if there is a heart condition.
- Follow-up and care as needed with a physician/cardiologist if abnormalities are found.