cardiac arrest in young people

The world looked on in horror as Danish footballer Christian Eriksen collapsed during his Euro 2020 match against Finland.

At 29 years of age and unquestionably fitter than the vast majority of his peers, Eriksen is not exactly a poster boy for heart problems. So, what could have caused the footballer to suffer a cardiac arrest?

Heart attack versus cardiac arrest

We think of heart attacks as something that happen to older people, who perhaps lead a sedentary lifestyle, eat a diet rich in saturated fats or smoke. The collapse of an athlete at less than thirty, therefore, sent shockwaves around the world.

However, cardiac arrest is subtly different from a heart attack: In a cardiac arrest, the heart stops pumping blood around the body, which prevents oxygen flow to the brain, causing a sudden collapse.

Conversely, in a heart attack, it is the blood flow into the heart that is stopped, often because of a clot in one of the arteries.

Unlike a heart attack, cardiac arrest is not usually lifestyle-related, but is caused by a heart defect.

Common causes of cardiac arrest

  • Abnormal heart rhythm, also known as arrhythmia. Your heartbeat is controlled by electrical impulses. Usually, these impulses come in a steady rhythm, but for some people that rhythm is unusually fast or slow. This might not cause a problem in itself, but could be a sign of an underlying condition
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. This is a condition which causes the muscles of the heart to thicken, making it increasingly difficult to pump blood around the body
  • Acute myocarditis. This is an inflammation of the heart muscle, often caused by a viral infection

Why didn’t screening pick up a health issue?

Footballers are subject to regular screening for heart conditions – this is not the first time a player has collapsed on the pitch, most famously Fabrice Muamba in 2012 – so some experts have expressed surprise that a problem was not picked up earlier.

Unfortunately, however, no test is infallible. The screenings are carried out every two years in the UK, between the ages of 16 and 25, so Eriksen already falls outside of the screening category in this country at least.

Sometimes the conditions mentioned above don’t present themselves until the player is in their late twenties, or sometimes – as with acute myocarditis – they occur as a result of infection.

At the time of writing, Eriksen was alive and well, but still in hospital undergoing several investigative tests to find out the cause of his arrest.

Get your heart rhythm checked

It may be worth contacting a doctor to find out if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • palpitations
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • discomfort in the chest
  • feeling as though you may pass out

As stressed above, this may be nothing to worry about, but it is sensible to be aware of it and to look into any possible causes. For more information or to book an appointment with Dr Konrad Grosser, please call us on 0333 444 1844.