What causes athletes to collapse during sporting events?

For young athletes with heart conditions, being around people who know CPR can reduce their risk of death from sudden cardiac arrest.

For young athletes with heart conditions, being around people who know CPR can reduce their risk of death from sudden cardiac arrest.


A Rocky River High School boys basketball player collapsed on the court during a game on Tuesday night in what was a frightening event.

Though what triggered the episode is unknown, the player was the latest athlete to require life-saving medical intervention.

The incident comes amid discussions examining why athletes have collapsed or suffered cardiac events during competition. More than 2,000 children in the U.S. die from sudden cardiac arrest annually, according to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, making it the leading cause of death in young athletes.

Here is what to know about potential causes and risk factors for athletes:

Why athletes collapse

According to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, the most common causes that lead to an athlete collapsing include heat exhaustion, cardiac arrest, seizures, or a brain hemorrhage. Other factors are hypothermia, low blood sugar or low sodium.

Are COVID-19 vaccines responsible?

Though claims that COVID-19 vaccines have led to a surge in injuries and sudden deaths in athletes, there is no data to back them up, according to the myth-busting website FactCheck.

“There is no uptick in sudden cardiac arrest or death in athletes due to COVID-19 or from COVID vaccinations,” Dr. Jonathan Drezner, the director of the University of Washington Medical Center for Sports Cardiology, told the website. “This is total misinformation.”

There has not been an increase in deaths in young athletes since COVID-19 vaccines were made available in April 2021, FactCheck found, citing the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at UNC Chapel Hill.

Regular physical exams can lower risk of cardiac events

Regular wellness visits and sports physicals can help lower the risk of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

During a physical, doctors can get a detailed health history to help identify risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest, according to the AAP, including:

  • Family history of unexplained death in a healthy family member under the age of 50

  • A family member with an inherited heart muscle problem

  • Chest pain during exercise

  • Abnormal heart rate or rhythm

  • Fainting or seizure without warning during exercise

  • Being born with a congenital heart defect

If any risk factors are identified, doctors can perform an electrocardiogram or an echocardiogram to reduce the risk of sudden death in children.

Generally, it is safe for children who have heart conditions to play sports, said Dr. Akash Patel, a pediatric cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

Being around people who know CPR during sporting events and having an automated external defibrillator, a device used to help shock the heart back into its usual rhythm, can add extra layers of protection, according to Patel.

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Evan Moore is a service journalism reporter for the Charlotte Observer. He grew up in Denver, North Carolina, where he previously worked as a reporter for the Denver Citizen, and is a UNC Charlotte graduate.

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