What is Sudden Cardiac Death?

More than 8 million high school students and half a million students in college are athletes in the United States. Majority of the sports these athletes play endure high intensity training. With intense training it leads to abnormal heart rhythms called Arrhythmias. Arrhythmias is when the heart beats too fast, too slow, or any irregular rhythm. 

Heartbeat, Heart, Hand, Cardiac, Rate, Heartbeat Line

Arrhythmias can lead to a sudden cardiac death (SCD) which is a frequent medical condition that leads to sudden death in athletes and adults between the ages of 30 and 40. Sudden Cardiac Death is a sudden, unexpected death caused by loss of heart function and it is one of the largest causes of natural death in the United States. This is common in athletes because they are constantly having their heart rate up when working out. 

Some symptoms of SCD are: 

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness/Blurry vision 
  • Shortness of breath

Risk Factors: 

  • Family history of SCD
  • Recreational drug abuse 
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes 
  • Previous heart attacks
  • Coronary Artery Disease (smoking, family history of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol or an enlarged heart)

There are treatments for patients that are at higher risk, such as Implantable Cardioverter- Defibrillator (ICD). ICD is a small device like a pacemaker that corrects arrhythmias, which detects and fixes a fast heart rate. Most of the time ICD is used for patients who have survived a sudden cardiac arrest and need to be monitored at all time. 

Being active is a healthy lifestyle, but also leads to changes in your heart. SCD can happen at any time, so it is important to do heart screenings every 2 years to make sure there isn’t anything wrong with your heart. For older adults, they should also take into consideration of taking a stress exercise test. Questions that may be asked during a screening would mainly be about your family history, exercise history, and any signs or symptoms of SCD. It is always important to make sure you are staying healthy by eating right and staying active. 

Amanda Goh, Executive Intern


US National Library of Medicine

Cleveland Clinic


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