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Risks of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in Athletes

Published on 5th March 2018

Sudden Cardiac Death is the world’s biggest killer and claims the lives of more people than breast, lung and prostate cancer combined. Obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high blood pressure, and a cholesterol-heavy diet can all be contributing factors, but a healthy lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re free from risk. Sudden Cardiac Arrest is very different to a heart attack, and it can strike anyone, anywhere at any time.

Even the most fit and active among us can be victims. Athletes in peak physical condition who play at the top level of all kinds of different sports have been affected by Sudden Cardiac Arrest. As an example, look at Fabrice Marumba, the Premiership footballer who famously collapsed on the pitch during a televised match and whose heart stopped for 78 minutes before medical professionals revived him. There’s also Marc-Vivien Foe of Manchester City, Phil O’Donnel of Motherwell, the golfer Bernard Gallacher. Ice-hockey players Rich Peverley and Jiri Fisher and the tragic deaths of rugby star Danny Jones and Belgian footballer Gregory Mertens who both died from Sudden Cardiac Arrest within the space of a month.

UEFA, Europe’s football governing body, now requires all players to undertake screening which includes a medical examination, detailed analysis of medical history, a special cardiological exam and radiological and ultrasound scans. These screening processes help but they can never be completely effective when it comes to Sudden Cardiac Arrest – symptoms are not always present and heart conditions can develop at any time. Gregory Mertens passed all his pre-season medical tests and was considered one of the fittest players on his team.

The best way to help athletes is to be prepared for when an emergency happens.

America’s National Hockey League now stipulates that three doctors must be available to each team for every game – a primary care physician, an ER physician and an orthopaedist. Training in CPR is also vital as this, along with the use of a defibrillator, is a victim’s best chance of survival after a Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

A quick response makes all the difference. If you can respond with CPR and defibrillation inside 60 seconds, the victim’s chance of survival is as high as 50%. Within 5 minutes, it’s 70% but after this, it drops by 10% every minute.

That’s why more and more communities and sports clubs are investing in defibrillators. Getting the right unit is also important – you need something that’s quick and easy for anyone to use in an emergency, regardless of their medical training. It could mean the difference between life and death.

If you’d like to find out more about Sudden Cardiac Arrest or how to choose the defibrillator that’s right for you, please get in touch.