Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

  • What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

    Your heart is an amazing muscle that beats over 100,000 times per day to keep blood and oxygen pumping around your body, and beats continuously throughout your entire life without taking a break or stopping to rest! The beating of the heart is controlled by an electrical conduction system that causes the heart muscle to contract rhythmically and in an organized manner. Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) occurs when there is a problem with the heart’s electrical conduction system which causes the chambers of the heart to beat irregularly and start to quiver or “fibrillate.” When the heart fibrillates, blood stops pumping throughout the body and within minutes, the heart stops beating and the person experiences sudden cardiac arrest. The person stops breathing, becomes unconscious, and collapses. Without quick intervention including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation with an automated external defibrillator (AED), the person will die.

    Who is at Risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

    Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, and while rare in children it unfortunately does happen. Sudden cardiac arrest tends to occur in children during exercise or athletic sports activities, and is a leading cause of death in student athletes between the ages of 10-19 years old. Risk factors for children include being male, having heart disease or structural abnormalities of the heart, or having an abnormal heart rhythm. Other risk factors include being overweight or obese, having high blood pressure, exposure to drugs (especially illicit drugs that cause the heart to beat quickly), and family history such as having a family member who experienced sudden cardiac death before age 50. Occasionally a sudden hard blow to the chest can cause the heart to fibrillate and cause sudden cardiac arrest; this is known as “commotio cordis.”

    Adults are also at risk for sudden cardiac arrest, with more than 350,000 total adult deaths from sudden cardiac arrest outside of hospitals each year.

    Are There Warning Signs or Symptoms of Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

    Sudden cardiac arrest typically occurs without warning and is completely unexpected. However, in about a third of cases, warning signs are present but are frequently ignored or attributed to something else. Warning signs include chest pain during exercise, extreme fatigue with activity, feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or fainting, seizure activity that occurs with exercise, feeling like the heart is racing, or feeling a sensation of the heart beating hard or irregularly (“having palpitations”).

    Can Sudden Cardiac Arrest be Prevented?

    One of the best ways to prevent sudden cardiac arrest is to know if your child has a predisposing health condition or a family history of heart problems that increases their risk of a sudden cardiac arrest. Regular (annual) well-child checkups and sports physicals with a healthcare provider can help to identify risk factors or heart problems that need to be addressed, to make sure your student is healthy and ready for exercise and athletics. All student athletes participating in middle and high school athletics must have a sports physical prior to being allowed to play, but children, especially student athletes, may not tell an adult or coach they are having symptoms because they are afraid they will not be able to continue in their sport. They may also not know or recognize their symptoms are an indication of an impending life-threatening event. Educating and empowering our children to report when they don’t feel well is an important step in intervening before a problem occurs!

    The Olathe Public Schools opens its facilities several times throughout the year for students and families to have access to youth cardiac screenings. Check social media and district news outlets for information about these events throughout the year.

    Treatment for Sudden Cardiac Arrest

    When a sudden cardiac arrest occurs, responding immediately with CPR and defibrillation with an AED, along with activating the emergency response system by calling 911, can dramatically increase the chances of survival. High quality CPR helps to keep blood and oxygen pumping through the body, and the AED can stop the heart from fibrillating and restore a normal heart rhythm. Olathe School District PE teachers, coaches, athletic trainers, and school nurses are trained in CPR and AED use, and can respond to a sudden cardiac arrest. Additionally, every district building has at least one AED, and the middle and high schools have several AEDs. Athletic trainers also have AEDs that they bring to events so that they are readily available. The district activity centers (ODAC and CBAC) also have several AEDs. We highly recommend that everyone learns how to perform CPR and use an AED. There are many resources (see below) in Johnson County where anyone can learn how to perform CPR.


    More Information About Sudden Cardiac Arrest:

    Local Agencies Offering CPR/AED training: