How common is sudden cardiac arrest in athletes?

Collapse of Bronny James, Lebron James’ son, raises concerns
Published: Jul. 25, 2023 at 5:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Sudden cardiac arrest is the number one killer of student athletes during exercise. That doesn’t mean it’s common. When it does happen on the field or the court, as it did when Bronny James collapsed at a USC basketball practice, these frightening events make headlines. Male basketball players suffer from sudden cardiac arrest more often than any other athletes.

This stopping of the heart is caused by an irregular heart rhythm - and It can happen to people with no history of heart disease.

“First of all, it tends to happen more in men than women. It tends to happen in athletes who are competing at a higher level,” said Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “Basketball is one of those sports where you tend to see these types of sudden cardiac arrests more and the more minutes that you’re playing, the higher likelihood of it happening. Now again, this is rare.”

Football players are the second most at risk. You may remember when 24-year-old NFL player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field. Closer to home, 12-year-old Pyper Midkiff collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest on a Phoenix-area soccer field. She had an undiagnosed genetic heart condition. Hamlin and Midkiff are both doing okay now.

To be clear, sudden cardiac arrest is not a heart attack. Also, it can happen to young people who are not athletes - even when they’re not exercising, so it’s important to pay attention to family history, get trained on CPR, and support placing AEDs (automated external defibrillators) near athletic facilities. According to the CDC, about two thousand young, seemingly healthy Americans under the age of 25 die every year of sudden cardiac arrest. Many cardiovascular problems are undiagnosed, so take warning signs, like shortness of breath, chest pain, and fainting seriously.

Even then, it’s often too late, so thorough sports physicals to catch issues early can be life savers.

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