Warning Signs and Symptoms of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

A few years back, a group of parents were interviewed after losing their child to sudden cardiac arrest. Seventy-two percent of them said their child exhibited a warning sign – they just didn’t recognize it as a warning sign. Sudden cardiac arrest can happen suddenly and unexpectedly – without warning signs – but it important to know them.

Warning signs in adults and children are different. To make it more confusing, the symptoms seem pretty common, which is why it is so important to consider where your child is and what he is doing when the warning signs appear.

  1. Fainting or seizures during or immediately after exercise
  2. Unexplained shortness of breath
  3. Dizziness
  4. Extreme fatigue
  5. Racing heart (feels like it is beating out of your chest).
  6. Sudden and unexplained death of a family member under the age of 50 (e.g. drowning, auto accident, SIDS).

#1 is the most common, so we want to spend a moment talking about fainting and seizures. If your child passes out during or right after exercise, stop everything. S/he should seek medical attention. If your car suddenly stopped running without warning, would you assume it’s fine or go to a mechanic?

Seizures are a symptom of neurological conditions. In the case of epilepsy, the advice is to leave the person alone and make sure the area around them is safe. However, seizure can happen during cardiac arrest too and the last thing you want to do is leave the person alone. If the child doesn’t have a history of epilepsy and there was not a trauma to the head, assume the child is in cardiac arrest.

If you read those symptoms and thought “my kid is extremely tired and short of breath during every practice,” you’re not alone. Healthy students will have a fast-beating heart, get very tired and be short of breath. Consider the circumstances.

  • Does your child’s heart race when she’s doing sprints or sitting at her desk?
  • Is your child able to catch his breath in a reasonable amount of time or is he still winded after all of the other kids have moved on?
  • Does your child complain that she’s exhausted long after the activity is over or on days when there was no activity?
  • Is you child dizzy when he stands up quickly or strolling through the store?

Consider this. Your child is sitting on the couch watching Netflix. He starts coughing uncontrollably. What is your assumption?  Different day. He is at the kitchen table with a friend having a hot dog eating contest. He starts coughing uncontrollably. What is your assumption now? It is imperative that we evaluate what our kids are doing when they experience these symptoms.

If you are concerned about these warning signs, talk to your family doctor. Share this student fact sheet with your family and school.