Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Young People

Heart related deaths are infrequent in young people but are devastating

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly becomes unable to function properly, occurs in several hundred thousand individuals in the United States yearly.

While heart-related deaths occur much less frequently in young people,  it is especially devastating to families, schools, and the extended community when young, otherwise healthy people die unexpectedly. February is Heart Month, a good time to review signs and symptoms that can be associated with sudden cardiac arrest.

"Originally produced by Children's Hospital of Michigan."

Signs and Symptoms

James Galas, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan with an interest in providing public awareness programs to the local community, says sudden cardiac arrest may come without warning.  “Studies suggest that in the majority of cases of sudden cardiac death, the athlete may be asymptomatic or not recognize symptoms until an actual cardiac arrest,” he says. It is still important to be aware of signs and symptoms since a number of victims have either had symptoms themselves or had a family member with serious heart disease.

Talk to a medical professional if you or someone you know has any of the following signs or symptoms:

Symptoms with exercise:

  • Sudden, unexplained fainting
  • Unexplained seizures
  • Shortness of breath, not explained by a more common health issue such as asthma
  • Racing or fluttering heartbeats
  • Family history of sudden heart related death before 50 years of age

Some causes of sudden cardiac arrest include:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an abnormally thick heart muscle
  • Coronary artery abnormalities
    • Some people are born with abnormal connections of the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart
    • These abnormal connections are more likely to cause problems with intense physical activity
  • Long QT syndrome (LQTS), an inherited heart rhythm disorder that can cause the heart to beat fast, irregular, and inefficiently
  • Previously unrecognized heart defects
  • Heart muscle abnormalities
  • Inflammation of the heart from another illness
  • Cardiac arrhythmias, a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system
  • Commotio cordis, a blow to the heart which causes an arrhythmia

 Save a Life

When a person goes into sudden cardiac arrest, minutes can mean the difference between life and death. If you find someone is unresponsive and not breathing, call 911 and take action to help the victim. Learning CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and how to use an AED (automated external defibrillator) can save a life. Contact your American Red Cross or American Heart Association for information on where you can receive CPR and AED training. By doing so, it’s just one more way you can be there for your friends and loved ones.

If you or someone you know has experienced any signs or symptoms mentioned above please contact your primary care physician.  DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan offers pediatric cardiology services at their specialty centers in Birmingham, Clinton Township, and Detroit.  For further information or to schedule an appointment with a physician at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan, call (313) 745-KIDS or toll-free at (888) 362-2500.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 14, 2013
Last Updated:
February 14, 2013