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What is cardiac arrest and why it happens to young athletes, like Bronny James

Bronny James cardiac arrest: Why it is common in young athletes
Bronny James cardiac arrest: Why it is common in young athletes 03:35

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) --  Sudden cardiac arrest, or SCA, is the leading cause of death in young athletes, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). For unknown reasons, college basketball players have one of the higher rates of fatal cardiac arrests.

Fortunately, that's not the case for Bronny James, LeBron James' son.  

Cardiac arrest happens when an electrical malfunction in the heart causes an irregular heartbeat -- also known as an arrhythmia -- and the heart abruptly stops beating, halting blood flow.

That's what happened to Bronny during a practice, where was quickly treated.

"In terms of immediate recovery, that really depends on how quickly and effective CPR was performed, and it sounds as though he received CPR immediately and it was effective and he is doing well," said Joel Temple, MD, the director of cardiac electrophysiology at Nemours Children's Health. "We expect in a situation like this that a patient would have a complete recovery."

Dr. Temple said sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes is usually caused by an undiagnosed congenital heart defect and not an injury.

"Anyone that's had an arrest, there is a reasonably possibility that they've something that led to this which may alter their life course somewhat," Dr. Temple said. "They may not participate in sports at the same level they were before."

There is still no official prognosis on the younger James, but quick action no doubt saved his life.

Be ready to save a life, learn about hands-only CPR 01:00

"The importance of CPR -- the likelihood of surviving arrest is about 6%. Very very low," Dr. Temple said. "Effective CPR provided -- immediately that goes up to 44%. If an AED is used, it goes up to 66%."

Doctors said that while most cardiac arrests can't be predicted, screening young athletes can identify those at risk.

"They are really simple questions that focus primarily on symptoms the patient may have had that could be warning signs, like fainting palpitations or chest pain. Also, focus on family history -- that could be somewhat helpful," Dr. Temple said.

Cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack, which occurs when blood flow to the heart's muscle becomes limited or blocked, causing the classic symptom of chest pain.

For more information on being ready to save a life with CPR, check out the Heart Association's website.   

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