You may remember a young man by the name of Wes Leonard, who suddenly collapsed and died after a game winning shot in a high school basketball game in Michigan earlier this year. The cause of death was a condition known as Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD). SCD occurs when the heart stops beating due to an irregular electrical impulse, causing the heart to beat out of rhythm. LA Times reports that 95 percent of SCD victims die within minutes of the event.
Several factors can contribute to the heart getting out of rhythm.
Coronary Artery Disease (Major Factor)
Severe Physical Exertion
Coronary Artery Disease is a condition in which the blood vessels that carry oxygen to the heart are narrowed. This usually occurs in those older than the typical high school/college student. Some symptoms can be an early indication of heart related issues. These symptoms include, but are not limited to, family history of heart disease, previous occurrence of chest pain, fainting, shortness of breath, fatigue (associated with exercise), history of a heart murmur, and an increased systemic blood pressure.
Athletes are screened yearly with a health history and a physical. Even though some conditions can be detected during the physicals, a majority of cases go undetected and asymptomatic until the fatal event occurs. An electrocardiogram (ECG) could better identify people at risk of SCD. There are arguments against performing these as a preventive measure due to the high cost of the test, considering the national average cost is $1,500.
If it isn’t feasible to test all athletes, then test the people that are at a greater risk. WebMD states that the risks of SCD in athletics are greater in basketball, swimming, lacrosse, and football, with basketball having the highest risk (1 in 11,400). African-Americans athletes have a SCD rate of 1 in 17,700 versus a 1 in 58,700 rate in Caucasian athletes.
For those who have no known risk factors, there are a few preventative steps to take:
Implement a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and exercise plan.
Choose from a variety of lean meats, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and grains that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.
And, make sure those foods are low in sodium and added sugar
In the case of a SCD event, it is critical that an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) is accessible. CPR should be performed until the AED arrives. The AED can detect the heart’s rhythm (or lack of) and can shock accordingly, correcting the irregular beat of the heart. This must be done quickly, because the more time that passes, the less likely the person will survive.