Sudden cardiac death
Preventing sports-related fatalities.
By Celine Blancas-Evidente, M.D.
We’ve seen it on the news—fit athletes on top of their game suddenly collapsing and dying during a sports event. How could this happen when everyone knows for a fact that sports and vigorous activities help keep our body healthy, particularly the heart?
Exercise and active participation in sports are considered part of an ideal, healthy lifestyle. It’s a tragedy to see a young athlete die from a sudden and unexpected cause during sports. The event is often abrupt, non-traumatic and non-violent. Although this is a rare occurrence, it has caused concern and much fear.
Sudden cardiac death
Louella Gonzalez-Santos, M.D., a preventive cardiologist from Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City defines sudden cardiac death (SCD) or sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) as death from a cardiac cause within a short time period in a person who may or may not have had a pre-existing heart disease. What is significant about SCD is that the time and mode of death are unexpected and rapid. This is caused by a disturbance in the electrical system that controls the beating of the heart. When this arrhythmia or irregular beating occurs, it can result in the complete stopping of the heart, resulting in sudden death. Specifically, sport-related SCD has been further defined as non-traumatic death during or within an hour after moderate- to high-intensity exercise in a competitive athlete involved in physically demanding sports and participating in competitions.
Early warning signs
According to Dr. Gonzalez-Santos, the problem with SCD is that persons at risk may not manifest with early symptoms. This makes it a silent killer. Symptoms that should be medically worked up in physically active young individuals include: dizziness, shortness of breath, palpitations, fainting, weakness, and fatigue or chest pain especially while exercising. Other warning signs include fainting or syncope, seizure during physical activity or from emotional excitement or distress. As athletes are used to exerting themselves physically, these symptoms may be misinterpreted as exhaustion.
Some clues may identify a person to be at risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Often, the presence of warning signs, a history of heart problems requiring medication, or family history of death due to sudden cardiac arrest at a young age should prompt the individual to consult their doctor.
Matters of the heart
There are several causes of SCD, the most common being coronary artery disease or a blockage in one of the arteries providing blood supply to the muscle of the heart. In adolescents or young adults who are active in sports, SCD causes may include: