The No. 1 cause of death in young athletes is sudden cardiac arrest. It can strike without warning and has prompted some states to pass laws requiring schools to provide automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Some states even teach students how to use them. The Dodge City High School has an AED located just outside the athletic office. The two middle schools also have these devices available.

When the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating it is known as cardiac arrest. It can cause death within minutes and usually affects young athletes during competition or practice. When attached to the body the AED can detect an abnormal rhythm in a person's heart and deliver a shock, if necessary, which will return that rhythm to normal. These devices have proven over and over that they can save lives.

When the heart stops beating, acting quickly can mean the difference between life and death.  For every minute that the heart does not beat, the chance of survival drops by 10 percent. Most AEDs in schools are located near the athletic department office or in the main office. They are also found in places where there are large volumes of people, like airports. It is good to know where the nearest AED is located. Under most circumstances it should take no more than 3 minutes to get the AED and return to the victim. The AED will not shock a person who does not need it, that is, if it detects a normal rhythm it will do nothing. As soon as you open the box a voice will automatically start talking to walk you through each step telling you exactly what to do.

Sudden cardiac arrest symptoms include chest pain; lightheadedness or dizziness when exercising; shortness of breath that is not caused by exercise or is more than one would expect compared to peers; feeling like your heart is skipping a beat; and passing out.

It is recommended that young athletes have a sports physical each year.  Athletes who are concerned about their heart health should mention this to their health care provider.


Dr. Lyle D. Smith is a pediatrician at Dodge City Medical Center.