Sudden cardiac arrest


Treating, Preventing Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Athletes and Everyone

Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

Incidents of cardiac arrest among prominent professional athletes in recent years have brought attention to this often misunderstood and potentially fatal condition. And that attention is quite helpful in treating and preventing such incidents among athletes and everyone else.

October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month.

“Certainly, we're more aware of sudden cardiac arrest than we were before, and we've heard about a lot of these high-profile events,” said Eli Friedman, M.D., medical director of sports cardiology at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “Cardiac arrest is a known event that can happen during sport participation, but it can also happen during other times as well. The data does not suggest that this is happening more frequently. Rather, our focus should be on getting people out there playing and playing as safe as possible -- with safety plans in place to help if something really terrible happens.”

Eli Friedman, M.D., medical director of sports cardiology at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.


Sudden cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function that can occur in a person who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease. As the term indicates, it can come on suddenly, or following other symptoms. While heart attacks can cause cardiac arrest, not all forms of cardiac arrest are from heart attacks. Other causes arising from the heart can include a weak heart muscle (heart failure) or valvular heart disease (severe narrowing or leakage of a heart valve). In the case of professional athletes, the cause may be more complex.

Overall, more than 356,000 cardiac arrests occur outside a hospital in the U.S. each year, according to the American Heart Association. And the condition is often fatal if appropriate steps aren’t taken immediately.

While incidents of sudden cardiac arrest among young athletes are not more common, should parents worry? Parents should be vigilant but they shouldn’t be concerned, explains Dr. Friedman.

In a recent Resource Live segment, Cardiac Warning Signs and Common Sports Injuries You Need to Know, host Johanna Gomez asked Dr. Friedman what parents of young athletes should know about specific screenings that may prevent cardiac arrest. Alex Mafdali, M.D., a family medicine physician specializing in primary care sports medicine at Baptist Health, is also featured in the segment.

“A pre-participation physical exam and a history is really important and it's a key time for anybody, whether it be an elementary school athlete all the way through to our professional athletes,” said Dr. Friedman. “Is there any family history that's really concerning here? Any little skipping or racing heartbeats, chest pain, or difficulty breathing that somebody is just brushing off and saying that's nothing -- but could be a sign of something more nefarious that we need to dig into.”

Dr. Friedman is spearheading programs to help diagnose or treat cardiovascular conditions in athletes – and active individuals at all ages. He helps train athletes and their coaches in proper CPR techniques in school and college athletic programs, and across professional sports.


Dr. Friedman serves as team cardiologist for Miami’s Major League Soccer team, Inter Miami CF, and numerous local colleges and universities, and is cardiology consultant to the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and the U.S. Tennis Association’s Sports Science Committee. The WTA is part of the Smart Heart Sports Coalition, a newly formed partnership led by the National Football League with support from multiple other professional sporting organizations and national governing bodies of sport. By taking part in these projects, Dr. Friedman and his colleagues are increasing awareness of CPR techniques and help trainers with response plans for cases of sudden cardiac arrest.

“No real study or any data has suggested that we can be ahead of this better than we can with just sitting and talking to people doing a really good physical exam and working within a healthcare team,” explains Dr. Friedman. “We're constantly working with our athletic trainers. We're working with teachers and administrators at schools. We’re putting that safety net in place so that if something happens, if something sneaks through the cracks, then we have ways to be ready for it later on.”

The key to treating cardiac arrest is to first recognize it. The symptoms can be an unexplained collapse, unconsciousness, lack of breathing or a pulse, or even seizure-like movements. If you see this happening to any person, first determine if they are responsive by shaking them and yelling at them to see if they respond. Check for a pulse in the wrist or neck, and look for breathing.

Immediately call 911, and start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), if possible, and ask someone to bring an automated external defibrillator (AED) if there is one available at the location. AEDs are devices that can monitor a person who is in cardiac arrest and deliver a shock to the heart to help regain a normal heart rhythm, if needed.

Cardiac arrest can happen anywhere at any time. While you often see AEDs in airports, local gyms and grocery stores, you are far more likely to witness cardiac arrest in your home than any other location, said Dr. Friedman. The best way to be ready to deal with cardiac arrest is to know how to perform CPR and how to use an AED. CPR or an AED should be utilized after calling 911 to get first responders to arrive at the scene as quickly as possible.

According to the AHA, most cardiac arrests occur when a diseased heart’s electrical system malfunctions. This malfunction causes an abnormal heart rhythm such as ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. Some cardiac arrests are also caused by extreme slowing of the heart’s rhythm (bradycardia). Here’s more from the AHA on the causes of cardiac arrest.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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