When student athletes step out onto the court, their talent, skill and determination in the game can make us believe they are superhuman.

But when an athlete collapses on the court or playing field, it’s the quick response of others that can be lifesaving. While sudden cardiac arrest is rare, recognizing the signs of cardiac arrest and taking immediate action are essential.

What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is different from a classic heart attack, which involves a blocked heart artery that starves the heart muscle of blood. In cardiac arrest, an irregularity in the heart rhythm prevents the heart from pumping blood normally to reach the brain and other organs.

Symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest are immediate and severe and include:

  • Sudden collapse.
  • No pulse.
  • No breathing.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Sometimes other symptoms occur before sudden cardiac arrest. These might include:

  • Chest discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Weakness
  • Fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart, called palpitations.

But sudden cardiac arrest often occurs with no warning.

Are some people more likely than others to experience cardiac arrest?

Endurance athletes have an increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest. However, it’s a very small number of student athletes each year who are affected with this. Of the many student athletes in America, only a handful will suffer such a serious complication.

How will I know if my athlete is at risk?

To keep most young athletes healthy, all that’s needed is a routine student physical. For very few patients who have special risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest, such as a family history, additional cardiac testing may be needed.

If that’s the case, talk to your primary care doctor or a sports medicine physician for additional information.

What can I do in the case of cardiac arrest?

The key to a good outcome should sudden cardiac arrest occur is prompt medical attention. If you see the signs of cardiac arrest, call 911, then start CPR.

Hands-only CPR is highly effective and easy to learn. Watch two of our caregivers show you how to do hands-only CPR here.

You never know when you might be called to step forward and save a life. What’s a more superhuman skill than that?