Heart Health and Youth Sports Safety Recommendations

Friday, September 26, 2014

DALLAS, September 26, 2014 – In recognition of Children’s Cardiomyopathy Awareness Month in September and Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month in October, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association has released guidelines on heart health and youth sports safety.
“We know that education, prevention and treatment are integral in keeping young athletes in the game and off the sidelines,” says NATA President Jim Thornton, MA, ATC, CES. “It’s vital to establish a sports medicine team that includes physicians and athletic trainers, create an emergency action plan and maintain continued communication with parents, coaches, administrators and others to ensure all cardiac-specific sports safety protocols are in place. Following these guidelines throughout the season can help prevent or reduce acute, chronic or catastrophic injury outcomes.”
“We are pleased to have the support of NATA in raising awareness of pediatric cardiomyopathy and the steps that can be taken to prevent sudden cardiac death from this heart condition. Some children may have the disease without knowing it; our job is to help identify those high risk kids so they don’t suffer a cardiac arrest while engaging in sports,” says Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation Founder and Executive Director Lisa Yue.

Key Facts and Statistics

  • Cardiomyopathy is a chronic disease of the heart muscle affecting an estimated 30,000 children in the U.S. with one in every 100,000 children diagnosed each year. In more than 75 percent of pediatric cases there is no known cause. According to the CCF, cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) among the young.
  • Often the underlying cause of sudden cardiac death is a structural cardiac abnormality, however as many as 80 percent of these patients are asymptomatic until sudden cardiac arrest occurs and some underlying causes may not be detectable through pre-participation screening.
  • Just one in 10 U.S. student athletes who suffer sudden cardiac arrest survives.
  • The greatest factor affecting survival after SCA is the time from arrest to defibrillation.
  • Survival rates have been reported at 41-74 percent if bystander CPR is provided and defibrillation occurs within three to five minutes of collapse.

NATA Recommendations For Heart Health and Sports Safety

In a recent inter-association consensus statement addressing prevention of sudden death in secondary school sports, NATA issued guidelines specific to heart health and sudden cardiac arrest prevention and management:

  1. Athletes should undergo cardiovascular screenings before participation in competitive activities.
  2. Ensure that appropriate health care professionals, such as athletic trainers or sports-medicine trained physicians are educated in the evaluation and management of cardiac emergencies and are immediately available at all events.
  3. An automated external defibrillator (AED) should be on-site and readily available within three minutes (with one minute being ideal) for all organized sports activities.
  4. School staff, medical professionals, parents, coaches and athletes should be educated annually about location and use of AEDs.
  5. Any athlete who has collapsed and is unresponsive should be assumed to be in SCA until proven otherwise.
  6. Proper management includes: prompt recognition of SCA (brief seizure-like activity occurs in 50 percent of young athletes with SCA and should not be mistaken for a seizure); early activation of the EMS system (call 9-1-1); early CPR beginning with chest compressions; early use of an AED; and transport of the patient with SCA to a hospital capable of advanced cardiac care.
  7. Athletes who have cardiovascular symptoms, such as chest pain, excessive or new shortness of breath or exertional fatigue, should be evaluated by a physician and require medical clearance before returning to sports participation. Patients with an identified cardiac disorder, unexplained symptoms or prior sudden cardiac event, should be cleared by a cardiologist.
  8. The supervising physician for a school should discuss clearance decisions with appropriate consultants and parents. Clearance should always be based on expert cardiology evaluation.
  9. Continued research and other initiatives to improve knowledge of those factors contributing to risk and sudden death in young athletes.

SAFE PLAY Act Formally Introduced in July

NATA and the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation both support the Supporting Athletes, Families and Educators to Protect the Lives of Athletic Youth (SAFE PLAY) Act, a bill that was introduced on July 31 by Rep. Louis Capps (CA-24), Rep. Bill Pascrell (NJ-09) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). The Act addresses the need for emergency action plans; reporting to Congress on the number of sport-related and catastrophic injuries; development and dissemination of prevention and treatment guidelines specific to sports health conditions; and providing assistance to school districts to develop standardized action plans and resources on life saving skills including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

NATA has a longstanding commitment to youth sports safety and has now convened five national Youth Sports Safety Summits, with the sixth to take place in Dallas in March 2015. At the 2012 Summit, NATA introduced the first-ever National Action Plan for Sports Safety to ensure comprehensive action to protect America’s student athletes. The Plan and Summits have been supported by the Youth Sports Safety Alliance, spearheaded by NATA and now comprising nearly 170 sport and health organizations.