Sudden death, a question of prevention

In Spain there are around 40,000 sudden deaths per year, of which between 40 and 50 occur in young athletes. Early detection of certain cardiac pathologies and prevention can prevent cases from leading to death.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation measures

When cardiac arrest cannot be prevented, defibrillation is the most effective treatment measure. The time between when the patient’s heart stops and the defibrillator is applied is very important, since it is estimated that for every minute that passes there is a 10% less chance of the patient recovering.

If this method is not available, the second important measure is cardiac massage, which prolongs the time during which defibrillation can be effective.

Diagnosis of genetic heart disease

In the event that the sudden death of a young person, athlete or not, has already occurred, it is essential that a complete autopsy be performed, including a thorough examination of the heart and even genetic analysis, as well as an exhaustive family study. Thanks to the family and genetic study, a causal diagnosis can be made. The detection of a genetic heart disease as a cause of sudden death will make it possible to study family members, since it is known that 50% of them may have inherited the same disease and, therefore, be at risk.

Currently, the study of families with possible heart disease is helping to improve the diagnosis and prevention of these diseases and their dreaded consequence, which in some cases is sudden death. Fortunately, over the past 30 years, cardiovascular medicine has developed the implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), a device that is inserted under the skin of the patient at risk and is able to prevent sudden death from occurring.

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Measures to prevent sudden death

– Improve health habits and control of cardiovascular risk factors. It is essential to act as soon as possible in the prevention of coronary heart disease, intervening above all in childhood obesity and the reduction of physical activity. In the case of adults, a healthier diet and increased physical exercise are also recommended. Cardiology specialists recommend walking at least half an hour every day, as well as giving up smoking, controlling blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and diabetes.

– Medical check-ups for sportsmen and women. This should be performed from children to adults, in professionals and amateurs, trained and beginners. The screening should include a complete personal and family medical history, a physical examination and an electrocardiogram interpreted by a cardiologist. In this age of endurance events, many of these athletes are often unaware of the need for a proper medical examination and believe that their physical condition and sports practice protect them from cardiovascular disease, but this is not always the case. Medical evaluation and follow-up should be part of the athlete’s routine.

– See a specialist for the study of a possible hereditary heart disease. A history of sudden death in the family or of a serious pathology of this type in a young relative close to us may be indicative of an inherited heart disease.

– Public defibrillation. This is essential when it has not been possible to prevent cardiac arrest, but be careful because there are only 10 minutes to act. In this sense, it is essential to have semiautomatic defibrillators in public places and training programs in basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation for the general population.

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