Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics published information about young athletes dying from sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest happens without warning and is the No. 1 cause of death in young athletes.

Because of this fact, several states have passed laws that make sure schools have access to automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Some states are teaching students how to use them.

Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. It can cause death within minutes. It usually strikes young athletes during competition or practice.

An AED can check a person’s heart rhythm and send a shock that will return the heart rhythm to normal.

“You need to be prepared to save a life, and these devices without a doubt can save a life,” said Dr. Alex B. Diamond, an American Academy of Pediatrics pediatric sports medicine expert.

When the heart stops beating, acting quickly can mean the difference between life or death. For every minute that passes, the chance of survival goes down by 10 percent. The AED should be located near the gymnasium or athletic field. It should take no more than three minutes to get the AED and return to the victim, Diamond said.

The device will not shock someone who doesn’t need it so the worry about hurting someone by discharging a shock when they don’t actually need, it isn’t a problem. When the device is opened a voice will automatically start talking and tell you what to do.

Sudden cardiac arrest symptoms include the following: chest pain; lightheadedness or dizziness when exercising; shortness of breath that is not caused by exercise or is more than peers; feeling like your heart is skipping a beat; and passing out.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young athletes have a sports physical every year. Find out more information about pediatric heart conditions on

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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