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What parents need to know about cardiac arrest in young athletes

Healthier Together: Cardiac arrest in young athletes
Posted at 1:58 PM, Aug 22, 2023

Last month, Bronny James joined the seemingly growing list of athletes who suffered from cardiac arrest.

This as Buffalo Bills Player Damar Hamlin gets back to the field after his own episode that stopped a game and drew national attention.

“Young competitive athletes can really push themselves to certain limits,” said Dr. Anthony Dowidowicz, Executive Medical Director for Regence.

For most, Dr. Dowidowicz said it’s not a problem. But for a few – it may push their health over the edge.

Dowidowicz said, “Cardiac arrest occurs more commonly in older people who have had a lifetime of prior damage to their heart. However, in young, otherwise healthy athletes, it’s exceedingly rare. ”

Cardiac arrest occurs in about in about one in a thousand people. But in the young and healthy, it occurs in about one in 100-thousand.

“I think there are two important things we can do to protect athletes," said Dowidowicz. "First is to follow the medical screening guidelines and that means a periodic physical.”

Your child's doctor can assess risk factors for cardiac arrest or other conditions.

“The second thing that is important to do is to ensure that any sporting event there is an automated defibrillator in close proximity, and it’s attended by a bystander who knows CPR if needed,” said Dowidowicz.

Bronny James’ cardiac arrest in July and Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin’s collapse during a game drew a spotlight to the issue.

“A heart attack is defined as a part of the heart that doesn’t receive the oxygen. In younger healthier athletes, though, not receiving oxygen is not actually the problem. It’s usually an in born error of their electrical system that usually goes undiagnosed,” said Dowidowicz.

This is why those routine screenings are so important.

“One trend in young athletes is performance enhancing drugs which can actually make these things worse. It’s rare also. But it needs to be looked for."

Bottom line – he said parents shouldn’t overreact.

“I think it’s important for parents to strike a balance between guarded caution and participating in things that we know have long standing health benefits,” he said.