NFL football is an American pastime, but fun turned to fear last week as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, age 24, collapsed on the field. Cardiac arrest is particularly uncommon for healthy young people. However, athletes may be at greater risk than others when actively competing in sports.
Hamlin is not alone. Every year, about 356,000 people in the US experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting—that’s nearly 1,000 people per day. Sadly, an estimated 90% of these events are fatal.
Despite representing nearly 10% of deaths in the US each year, cardiac arrest is poorly understood by the general public. Unlike a heart attack, in which an artery that provides blood to heart tissue is blocked, cardiac arrest is an electrical issue, and the heart can no longer contract in a coordinated manner. As a result, blood cannot be pumped throughout the body, and heart and brain tissue can begin to die off from a loss of oxygen.