Cardiac Events Most Common Cause of Sudden Death in Young Athletes | Sports Destination Management

Cardiac Events Most Common Cause of Sudden Death in Young Athletes

Jun 12, 2019 | By: Michael Popke

The majority of sudden deaths among young athletes ages 6 to 17 in the United States between 2007 and 2015 were cardiac-related and occurred during practice within organized middle school sports.

That’s the takeaway from a first-of-its-kind study published in the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Journal of Athletic Training.

From 2007 to 2015, 45 sudden deaths were reported in American youth sports, with the majority occurring in males with an average age of 13. Sudden cardiac arrest accounted for 76 percent of all deaths in youth sports, and the most common sports in which incidents occurred were basketball (36 percent), baseball (16 percent), football (16 percent) and soccer (13 percent).

New York reported the largest number of sudden deaths, followed by Illinois, California, Georgia and New Jersey.

The research was led by researchers from the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut and focused on three settings for youth sports: middle schools, organized youth sports leagues, and clubs and recreational youth sport events. 

More than 58 percent of sudden deaths occurred in organized middle school sports, whereas 40 percent of affected athletes participated in recreational and youth sports leagues.

Study authors gathered data from research databases, internet searches and other published news reports and did not focus on organized high school sports; sudden death among this population already has been discussed extensively, NATA officials says.

“While high school and college sports usually get the spotlight when it comes to the prevention of catastrophic health and injury events, this study confirms the need to extend best practices and policies to the youth and recreational levels to protect all young athletes,” NATA President Tory Lindley said in a statement. “Reports from the Korey Stringer Institute tells us that sudden cardiac death is one hundred percent preventable. Yet it is still a leading cause of sudden death. It is incumbent on middle schools, organized and recreational sports programs to put the health and safety of participants first.”

But putting safety first seems to have different definitions -- and standards -- when it comes to youth sports. A lack of equipment and training have led to slowness in response time, and response time is the critical factor in dealing with cardiac situations.

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, 36 states and the District of Columbia require CPR education for all students before high school graduation. And research conducted by Mark Sherrid, M.D. at New York University Langone Medical Center showed certain states required placement of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in specific places, including schools. However, there is no national law requiring such equipment in schools or sports venues; the only law passed pertains to having AEDs in federal buildings.

Unfortunately, despite overwhelming evidence in favor of having AEDs present, there remains a distinct disconnect when it comes to the availability of AEDs on sports fields and other venues where youth sports are held. In fact, this great graphic from Ohio University notes that there is a 64 percent survival rate for youth cardiac-related events when an AED is used -- and that it drops seven to 10 percent per minute when students have to wait for defibrillation, such as from an EMT.

Complicating the issue still further is that while the majority of cardiac events take place when athletes are exerting themselves, there is a small percentage of others who die from cardiac concussion, caused by a hard blow to the chest. Recent changes to equipment rules were intended to help prevent this. Additionally, there has been increased criticism of athletic programs that allow players to practice and compete in the heat, particularly youth.

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