People have increased chances of surviving an exercise-induced sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) if it occurs in a sports arena than outside of a sports arena, according to a recent study published in the journal Plos One.
Researchers recruited participants from Sweden for the study and set out to establish the association and differences between cardiac arrests suffered in fitness clubs and those experienced outside of sports arenas. The study involved 3,714 cases of cardiac arrests that occurred outside of hospitals – 268 (7%) of which were exercise-related and, of these, 164 (61.2%) occurred at sports arenas.
Researchers found that physical fitness facilities are more likely to have automated external defibrillators (AEDs) available, and SCA victims at these locations are more likely to receive early bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Outside of such settings, such as in a person’s home, life-saving technology and early CPR are less likely to be available.
Anyone in the AED industry can reasonably argue that sudden cardiac arrest and its devastating impact on over 356,000 lives across the country each year need more attention, and that the general public is largely unaware of such a lethal challenge.
Commonly, SCA awareness comes too late, such as after the loss of life. For NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, he was lucky, learning of his son Shareef’s heart condition after the star’s son reported feeling “funny” during a basketball practice. Shareef was rushed to the hospital where an “electrical issue” was discovered and later corrected with surgery. Fortunately, Shareef’s condition was identified in time and he’s expected to make a full recovery.
“My son is fine,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “We found out the problem earlier and he got surgery. He’s rehabbing now, so he has to take a stress test. After he passes that, he will be able to play again.”
After learning more about the close call, the NBA star started a campaign to drive cardiac awareness in the African American community, where research has shown that heart failure is up to 20 times more frequent before the age of 50 years than in whites of the same age.
Since African Americans are more at risk, O’Neal said they must come to terms with the fact that it’s a serious issue for which they must be prepared. “This affects us more than it does anybody. We need to get real. We need to get serious,” said O’Neal.
Contrary to popular myth, SCA and electrical heart problems have little to do with whether an individual exercises or not. In fact, like his father, Shareef is an elite athlete.
O’Neal is joined in his campaign by Dr. Elizabeth Offili, a professor of medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine and the first woman president of the Association of Black Cardiologists. The duo collaborated with Arbor Pharmaceuticals on educational resources and a video series in which O’Neal and Ofili tell people to be mindful of lifestyles and symptoms that may alert them to cardiac risks.
Ofili advised that if anyone is above the age 30 and experiences shortness of breath, extreme exhaustion, high blood pressure and other funny symptoms, they should see their doctor immediately, like Shareef.
“The blood pressure will sneak up on you, so we need to know that,” Dr. Ofili said. “But most importantly understand that if something is diagnosed, modern medicine has evolved to the point that we’re getting more and more personalized approaches to care. So let’s find out what’s out there and partner with your doctor.”
Ideally, the input and advocacy from a generational athlete like Shaquille O’Neal, coupled with the high likelihood of surviving SCA in sports arenas due to easy AED access, will drive change and bring awareness to this public health epidemic. One step in the right direction would be to expand the life-saving statistics seen in sporting areas to other areas in which the people experience SCA, such as schools, homes, and large gathering areas.