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Sports and Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a sudden loss of heart function. It is caused by a problem in the heart's electrical system. The heart beats dangerously fast or stops beating and fails to pump blood to the rest of the body. SCA is different from a heart attack, which involves a blockage in a blood vessel to the heart.

What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) happens when the heart beats dangerously fast or suddenly stops beating. This is a medical emergency and can progress quickly to sudden cardiac death (SCD). If you suspect someone is in sudden cardiac arrest, call 911 and start CPR right away.

When playing sports, an athlete's heart is working faster and pumping harder. Adrenaline is pumped throughout the body, and the heart needs more oxygen than normal. Dehydration, fever or changes in electrolytes (minerals in the body) can also play a part.

In people whose hearts are not normal to begin with, these extra stresses can sometimes trigger the electrical system of the heart at exactly the wrong time and cause sudden cardiac arrest.

While rare, SCA is the leading medical cause of death in young athletes. Use this condition center to learn more about sports and sudden cardiac arrest.

  • Last Edited 03/31/2018

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Roxanne Watson is CardioSmart