Age is no barrier to sudden cardiac arrest

Age is no barrier to sudden cardiac arrest

One thing that struck home following Danish footballer Christian Eriksen’s recent mid-match collapse: age is no barrier to sudden cardiac arrest.

It shocked the world that someone so young – a professional athlete, no less – could experience sudden cardiac arrest.

What made Christian’s sudden cardiac arrest unique, was the fact it happened in front of so many people.  Not, as it turns out, that he’s a young athlete.

The Mayo Clinic says cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes.

This New York Times article claims around 2,000 Americans under the age of 25 die after a sudden cardiac arrest, with one high school student dying every three days.

This problem has been the subject of many studies into why people under the age of 35 suffer sudden cardiac arrest.

Professor Dianne L Atkins addresses this in her 2019 Journal of the American Heart Association article, Sudden Cardiac Arrest in a Young Population: Not So Unpredictable.  Professor Atkins suggests that “in food-rich societies, [sudden cardiac arrest] is now increasingly related to preventable causes in all age populations.”

This idea of preventable causes appears to be supported by the authors of Sudden Cardiac Death (Allison G Yow et al).   Their studies show sudden cardiac arrests in patients under 35 are most likely to be due to a fatal arrhythmia, “usually in the context of a structurally normal heart.”

According to Paediatricians Dr Lindsay May and Dr Shaji Menon, regular doctor visits, staying fit and healthy, and knowing your family history are all ways to lower the risk of sudden cardiac arrest in the young.  Drs May and Menon also calls for age-appropriate CPR and AED training in schools.

Stories are everywhere

Many stories of young people dying from sudden cardiac arrest have come to light following  Christian Eriksen’s experience.

For example, Debbie and Gary Dixon became involved with the CRY – Cardiac Risk in the Young – Foundation after their 23-year-old son, Aaron died of a cardiac arrest in 2011.

According to the recent article on Aaron Dixon, 12 young people experience a cardiac arrest in the UK every week.

One such case was Kellum Thomas, 13 who died after a sudden cardiac arrest at home in Nottingham on 9 June.  Kellum was known to be at-risk of cardiac arrest; most are not.

Kellum’s mother was not alone in calling for better education around CPR and AEDs (automated external defibrillators).

The European Society of Cardiology responded to Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest by saying “if it can happen to a professional athlete, it can happen to anyone.”

The ESC’s statement cited European Heart Journal research showing sudden cardiac arrest accounts for 20 per cent of all natural deaths in Western societies.

Their advice?  Learn how to recognise sudden cardiac arrest, and be ready to provide the help they need.