What are the Causes of Cardiac Arrest in Young Adults

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Aman Priya Khanna
Written by Rajath R Prabhu, last updated on 31 January 2023| min read
What are the Causes of Cardiac Arrest in Young Adults

Quick Summary

Cardiac arrest is a serious and life-threatening condition in which the heart suddenly stops beating effectively. The causes of cardiac arrest in young adults include underlying health conditions such as heart disease, congenital heart defects, and inherited heart conditions. A sudden heart attack in a healthy person can also occur due to sudden trauma or injury or certain drugs and medical procedures.

Cardiac arrest is a serious and life-threatening condition in which the heart suddenly stops beating effectively. The causes of cardiac arrest in young adults include underlying health conditions such as heart disease, congenital heart defects, and inherited heart conditions. A sudden heart attack in a healthy person can also occur due to sudden trauma or injury or certain drugs and medical procedures.

However, many young adults would want to know the exact reasons for cardiac arrest in young age to understand the ways by which they can prevent it from occurring. Keep reading to learn the possible causes of cardiac arrest in young adults

What is a Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest is a critical medical condition in which the heart suddenly becomes unfit and stops pumping blood to the entire body. As a result, the body’s vital organs, such as the brain, could not receive blood. Consequently, the body becomes deprived of oxygen, and the victim dies within a few minutes.
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How Common is Cardiac Arrest in Young Adults?

Sudden cardiac arrest in young age is rare. The rate of sudden cardiac arrest among people of the adolescent and younger age group (18 years and younger, excluding infants) is between less than 1 and 4 deaths in 100,000 people annually.

Athletes who are more likely to have a sudden cardiac arrest include male basketball players and black athletes. A review conducted in 2014 found that sudden cardiac arrest occurred in 1 out of every 40,000 to 80,000 athletes aged between 9 to 40 years. Elite athletes experience sudden cardiac death more frequently - 1 out of every 8,253 persons annually.

Causes of Cardiac Arrest in Young Adults

Cardiac arrest in young adults is a sudden loss of heart function, which various factors can cause. The reason behind 40% of Sudden Cardiac arrests (SCA) in young adults remains unclear to doctors. However, the below-mentioned are some potential causes of sudden cardiac arrest in young adults.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), also known as Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy, is a genetic heart problem. In this condition, the patient’s heart muscles thicken. As a result, the heart experiences difficulty supplying blood to the body. This condition affects up to 1 in 167 people.

  1. HCM also leads to improper electrical signalling, causing arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats). 
  2. As the disease barely shows any symptoms, it remains undiagnosed in most patients. Still, some people might show symptoms like
    1. Chest pain or pressure
    2. Shortness of breath
    3. Rapid, slow or irregular heartbeats
    4. Dizziness or fainting
    5. Fatigue
    6. Swelling in the legs, ankles or feet
  3. The following are the known risk factors of HCM:
    1. Family history
    2. Age
    3. Gender
    4. Other heart conditions
    5. Lifestyle factors include a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, and high cholesterol levels.

Blunt Chest Injury

Blunt chest injury, also known as blunt thoracic trauma, is a type of physical trauma to the chest that occurs due to a direct impact or force applied to the chest wall. This can cause damage to the bones, muscles, or internal organs of the chest, including the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. It is also one of the reasons for cardiac arrest in young adults.

  1. Symptoms of blunt chest injury can include 
    1. Chest pain
    2. Difficulty breathing
    3. Rapid or irregular heartbeat
    4. Loss of consciousness.
  2. The risk factors for blunt chest injury include:
    1. Age
    2. Gender
    3. Occupation: People who engage in high-risk activities, such as construction workers and athletes, are at a higher risk of blunt chest injury.
    4. Lifestyles such as drug or alcohol abuse, are more likely to experience blunt chest injury.
    5. Other medical conditions
    6. Medications such as blood thinners can increase the risk of blunt chest injury.
    7. Environmental factors

Congenital Heart Disease 

Congenital heart disease refers to a range of birth defects that affect the normal functioning of the heart. These defects can involve the heart's walls, blood vessels, and heart valves. Thereby resulting in sudden cardiac arrest in young adults. 

  1. Congenital heart diseases can be mild or severe and may result in life-threatening conditions. 
  2. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, fainting, and heart murmur.
  3. Some of the main risk factors associated with CHD include:
    1. Family history of heart disease
    2. Certain medical conditions like diabetes, lupus, and rubella can increase the risk of CHD.
    3. Substance abuse like alcohol and drug.
    4. Exposure to certain chemicals like pesticides, lead, and mercury.
    5. Down syndrome

Long QT Syndrome 

Long QT syndrome (LQTS) is a rare genetic condition affecting the heart's electrical system, which controls the heart's rhythm. People with LQTS have an increased risk of fast, chaotic heartbeats, known as arrhythmias, which can cause sudden fainting or seizures. In some cases, LQTS can also lead to sudden death, especially during physical activity or stress.

  1. Common symptoms of LQTS include:
    1. Sudden fainting episodes
    2. Seizures
    3. Palpitations or fluttering in the chest
    4. Chest pain
    5. Rapid, irregular heartbeats
  2. Some of the risk factors for LQTS include
    1. Family history of Long QT Syndrome
    2. Certain medications that can prolong the QT interval
    3. Structural heart problems
    4. Electrolyte imbalances
    5. Specific genetic mutations affect the heart's electrical system.

Brugada Syndrome

Brugada Syndrome is a genetic condition that affects the heart's electrical system and increases the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. It is caused by mutations in specific genes that control the flow of electrical impulses in the heart. This condition can also cause sudden cardiac arrest in young age.

  1. The symptoms of Brugada syndrome include
    1. Sudden loss of consciousness
    2. Fainting
    3. Seizures
    4. Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
    5. Chest pain
  2. Some of the common isk factors of Brugada syndrome are:
    1. Family history of sudden cardiac arrest or Brugada Syndrome
    2. History of fainting or irregular heartbeat
    3. Having a personal history of sudden cardiac arrest
    4. High fever
    5. Certain drugs that can trigger Brugada Syndrome symptoms

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is a condition where the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become narrow or blocked due to the buildup of plaque. This plaque buildup reduces the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart and can lead to chest pain, angina, heart attack, or even sudden death. Coronary heart disease are also one of the leading causes of cardiac arrest in young adults. 

  1. Symptoms of CAD can include:
    1. Chest pain or discomfort (angina)
    2. Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity
    3. Rapid or irregular heartbeats
    4. Lightheadedness or dizziness
  2. Risk factors for CAD include:
    1. Age (being over 45 for men and over 55 for women)
    2. Family history of heart disease
    3. High blood pressure
    4. High cholesterol levels
    5. Smoking
    6. Diabetes
    7. Lack of physical activity
    8. Obesity
    9. Stress and unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Signs and Symptoms a Young Adult Should Look Out For

Most young adults feel no symptoms before cardiac arrest. However, a few of them might feel a few signs and symptoms. Nevertheless, young adults who suffer cardiac arrest exhibit the following signs:

  1. Sudden loss of responsiveness
  2. Chest pain or discomfort
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  5. Lightheadedness or fainting
  6. Nausea or vomiting
  7. Cold or clammy skin.

It's important to seek medical attention immediately if these symptoms are present. Early recognition and treatment of cardiac arrest can greatly improve outcomes and survival.

Preventive Measures for Cardiac Arrest in Young Adults

There are several preventive measures that can help reduce the risk of cardiac arrest in young adults. These include:

  1. Regular exercise: Regular physical activity can help improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  2. Healthy diet: Consuming a diet low in saturated and trans fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
  3. Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of heart disease, so it is important to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
  4. Avoiding tobacco: Smoking and using other tobacco products can significantly increase the risk of heart disease.
  5. Controlling stress: Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart disease, so it is important to practice stress-management techniques, such as yoga or meditation.
  6. Regular check-ups: Regular doctor visits can help identify and treat risk factors for heart disease before they become more serious.
  7. Managing chronic conditions: If you have a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol, it is important to work with your doctor to manage the condition and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Screening for Cardiac Arrest in Young Adults

Screening for cardiac arrest in young age is typically recommended for individuals who are at increased risk of developing heart problems. This may include 

  1. People with a family history of sudden cardiac death
  2. Those with known heart conditions
  3. Athletes who participate in competitive sports
  4. Those with symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath.

The screening for cardiac arrest in young age is typically done through a combination of medical history review, physical examination, and medical imaging tests. 

  1. A complete medical history, including family history, is taken to assess the risk of developing cardiac arrest. 
  2. A physical examination is performed to detect any signs of heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat or an enlarged heart. 
  3. Medical imaging tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiogram, and cardiac stress tests can also be used to assess heart function and detect any underlying cardiac issues. 
  4. Regular check-ups and screenings can help detect any potential problems and allow for early intervention and management, reducing the risk of cardiac arrest in young adults.


In conclusion, cardiac arrest in young adults is a serious health issue that requires prompt attention. It can occur due to various underlying causes such as hypertension, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, family history of heart diseases and other chronic conditions. Hence, it is essential to adopt a healthy lifestyle, undergo regular screenings, and be vigilant of any symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting, and irregular heartbeat.

Early diagnosis and proper management can help prevent or delay the onset of cardiac arrest, thereby reducing the risk of serious health problems or even death. Therefore, if you or your loved one experiences any symptoms of cardiac arrest, avail the right treatment immediately. You can also talk to our team of experienced heart specialists at HexaHealth. HexaHealth is your one-stop platform for all your healthcare needs. So contact us TODAY!

Frequently Asked Questions

Cardiac arrest in young adults can be caused by various factors including congenital heart diseases, inlcuding Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, Coronary Heart Disease, Brugada Syndrome and other ifestyle factors such as drug or substance abuse and unhealthy habits such as smoking and poor diet, injury to the chest and sudden physical stress, family history of heart problems and genetic factors.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest is a severe public health crisis. In the United States (U.S.),  356,000 people suffer from cardiac arrest in the hospital every year. Among them, 90% of them are mortal.
Older adults are the most at risk of cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest barely happens in young people. Young adults who are more prone to cardiac arrest are athletes, especially those of black origin.
Yes, a seemingly healthy person can have a sudden cardiac arrest, often caused by underlying heart conditions such as arrhythmias or structural heart problems. Regular screenings and monitoring for heart health can reduce the risk.

Most patients do not survive cardiac arrest. However, those who do survive might live a poor quality of life. This is because survivors may suffer:

  1. Brain injury
  2. Trauma
  3. Neurologic dysfunction
Cardiac arrest usually does not feel pain. Once the victims get unconscious, they do not feel any pain. However, things may vary from person to person.
When a person suffers from cardiac arrest, the activity of his heart stops. As a result, the blood supply to the brain ceases, and the person faints. If left untreated for a few minutes, the brain completely stops working. Cardiac arrest at a young age is a matter of concern as the person dies within a few minutes.
Memory loss isn’t always permanent. Some patients only face temporary memory loss. But others might face permanent memory loss. To sum up, it completely depends on the patient’s health condition.
 In a health study, 71% of the cardiac survivors started regaining consciousness within 48 hours of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). Other studies have also proven that regaining brain function is possible for cardiac arrest survivors.
Yes, a person can be revived after a cardiac arrest if proper treatment is given at the right time.  An estimated 7 out of 10 people who suffer cardiac arrest are at home. This decreases their chances of survival. However, Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be given to them to double or triple their chances of survival until medical help arrives.
One study at IBSA Foundation concluded that the brain stays alive for 30 seconds after death. However, it may vary from person to person.
Yes, a heart can heal after a cardiac arrest. But severe cardiac arrest can leave a scar on heart tissues. The patient should be given proper care after a cardiac arrest to speed up recovery.
The cardiac arrest survivors are mostly kept under medical supervision for a week or even less. The patient should resume daily activities such as driving, exercising, and working only after two to three weeks of proper bed rest. However, it totally depends on the patient’s condition, as some patients return to normal life only after a week. Meanwhile, others may take up to two to three months to recover.
Yes, cardiac arrest can be prevented by taking steps to reduce the risk factors, such as leading a healthy lifestyle, controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and avoiding smoking. Early detection and treatment of heart disease can also help prevent cardiac arrest. Regular check-ups and screening for heart disease can help identify problems early and reduce the risk of cardiac arrest.
Healthy individuals can experience sudden cardiac arrest due to underlying genetic or acquired heart conditions such as congenital heart disease, Long QT Syndrome, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, Brugada Syndrome or due to triggering factors such as physical stress, certain medications, or drug use. Early identification and management of risk factors can help reduce the risk of cardiac arrest.

Updated on : 31 January 2023

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational and learning purposes only. It doesn't cover every medical condition and might not be relevant to your personal situation. This information isn't medical advice, isn't meant for diagnosing any condition, and shouldn't replace talking to a certified medical or healthcare professional.


Dr. Aman Priya Khanna

Dr. Aman Priya Khanna

MBBS, DNB General Surgery, Fellowship in Minimal Access Surgery, FIAGES

12 Years Experience

Dr Aman Priya Khanna is a well-known General Surgeon, Proctologist and Bariatric Surgeon currently associated with HealthFort Clinic, Health First Multispecialty Clinic in Delhi. He has 12 years of experience in General Surgery and worke...View More


Rajath R Prabhu

Rajath R Prabhu

MSc. Clinical Research I PG Diploma in Public Health Services Management

3 Years Experience

His work in medical content writing and proofreading is noteworthy. He has also contributed immensely to public health research and has authored four scientific manuscripts in international journals. He was assoc...View More

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