Whilst rare, Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is the number one cause of sudden death in exercising young athletes with often tragic outcomes (only 10% survival). However awareness and rapid access to a defibrillator within 3 – 5 mins can increase the survival rate to 90%!
Whilst in older people Coronary Artery Disease (heart attack) is the most common cause of SCA, young people (< 35) often have no known underlying cardiac abnormality. In most cases there is no warning and the athlete suddenly collapses. This must be assumed to be a Sudden Cardiac Arrest until proven otherwise.
Elite and professional athletes undergo routine cardiac screening (ECG), but, as the risk is low, this is not recommended for pre-elite athletes - unless they have a family history of SCA before 40 or experience symptoms (fainting, palpitations, chest pain, seizures) during exercise. Therefore CPR training & rapid access to defibrillators are critical.