Some younger athletes are more prone to sudden cardiac arrest, doctors say

And studies show it is becoming more prevalent
Published: Aug. 13, 2023 at 9:06 PM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — Athletes under the age of 25 who participate in basketball, soccer and American football are more prone to sudden cardiac arrest, doctors say.

In those athletes who are at the end stage of puberty and getting their last growth spurt, their hormones are high and the heart begins to reach its maximum maturity, they say.

Studies show cardiac arrest is becoming more prevalent in young athletes.

“What we’re noticing now, we have more and more people participating in sports. There are 8 million high school athletes in the United States and 500,000 college athletes,” said Dr. Charles Webb, director of sports medicine at LSU Health Shreveport.

“More and more people are becoming active, so we’re starting to see more things happen; and we’re recording that in the sports literature.”

Doctors say sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes is very rare.

“In the United States and in Europe, the most common causes of cardiac arrest in athletes and anyone, in general, under the age of 25 is a congenital defect within the heart itself,” Webb explained.

Cardiac arrest among those over the age of 25 is due to coronary artery disease, cholesterol plaque, clogged arteries and blockage of the arteries, he said.

“But when you’re younger then 25 — so we’re dealing with the high school, college athletes — it’s actually a congenital malformation. The most common one is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy” or HOCM.

It is not a defect that occurs over time.

“Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is inherited. It’s not its own dominant trait, so you inherit it from family members. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it,” Webb said.

There are ways to screen for HOCM. “Ninety-three percent of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can be detected with an EKG.”

Webb said the price to provide all high school and collegiate athletes with extensive EKGs would be expensive.

That’s one reason it is critical to provide detailed information on family history when athletes are being screened for physicals.

Doctors say race and gender also play a role in cardiac arrest.

College basketball players have one of the highest rates of deadly cardiac arrests
According to the NIH, nine out of every ten sudden cardiac arrests that happen outside a hospital are deadly.