Responding to sudden cardiac arrest in athletes

January 3, 2023

Responding to sudden cardiac arrest in athletes

The Buffalo Bills report that Damar Hamlin remains in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after the 24-year-old safety suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

Dr. Kim Harmon, a UW Medicine family medicine and sports medicine specialist and a longtime team physician for the University of Washington Huskies football team, said the medical response to Hamlin’s collapse was immediate and crucial. 

“If an athlete has a sudden collapse, they're standing up and then they fall down, it should really be a sudden cardiac arrest until proven otherwise,” said Harmon. “The sooner you get CPR — actually, more specifically, the sooner that you can get a shock to the heart to restart it — the better the outcomes are statistically.”

Such a shock comes from an automated external defibrillator (AED) and can be life-saving, said Dr. Jordan Prutkin, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the UW Medicine Heart Institute.

“There is a difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. A heart attack is a plumbing problem; so that's an issue where one of the arteries of the heart gets blocked. That's very different than a cardiac arrest, which most commonly is due to an electrical issue, where you have a life-threatening fast heart rhythm,” he said. “That is presumably what happened yesterday, is that something caused his heart rhythm to go super-fast and needed to be shocked to get out of it.” 

Download broadcast-ready soundbites on cardiac arrest among athletes, including potential risks and treatment.

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