Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, having eclipsed cancer-related deaths, and sudden cardiac death is the most common immediate cause of death amongst heart disease–related deaths.  According to the American Heart Association, during one year of study the incidence of Emergency Medical Services-assessed out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest in the US was 326,200 with an average survival rate of 10.6%.1

Unfortunately, the young are not excluded from this risk.  Several studies conducted over the last several decades have demonstrated risk of sudden cardiac death in the young somewhere between 1 to as high as 8.3 deaths per 100,000 young per year.2-5  Although sudden cardiac arrest in student athletes may be more visible, sudden cardiac death also occurs in young nonathletes.4,6

Because approximately 20 percent of a community is in its schools on any given day, including students, teachers, staff and family members, a focused effort on cardiac arrest preparedness in schools is critical to protecting our children and others in the community and beyond.

Cardiac arrest preparedness in the schools should include:

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training for school staff, teachers, coaches, and students.

  • Cardiac Emergency Response Plans (CERPs) to ensure that all staff are able to respond quickly and decisively to a cardiac arrest on the school grounds.

  • Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to provide rapid defibrillation in the event of sudden cardiac arrest caused by ventricular fibrillation, with ongoing maintenance plans and drills.

  • Drills to enhance staff familiarity, rapid on-site communication and practiced coordination with local Emergency Medical Services.

  • Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) for individual students known to be at risk.


1American Heart Association Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2015 Update.

2Sudden unexpected death in children and adolescents. Driscoll DJ, Edwards W; JACC 1985.

3Sudden cardiac death in infants, children, and adolescents.  Berger S, Dhala A, Friedberg D; Pediatric Clinics of North America 1999.

4Incidence of sudden cardiac arrest in high school student athletes on school campus.  Toresdahl B, Rao A, Harmon K, Drezner J; Heart Rhythm 2014.

5Prospective study of sudden cardiac death among children and young adults.  Bagnall RD,; NEJM 2016.

6Risk Factors of Sudden Cardiac Death in the Young: A Multiple-Year Community-Wide Assessment
Reshmy Jayaraman, Kyndaron Reinier, Sandeep Nair, Aapo L. Aro, Audrey Uy-Evanado, Carmen Rusinaru, Eric C. Stecker, Karen Gunson, Jonathan Jui, Sumeet S. Chugh
Circulation. 2017.