Can an Impact Cause Cardiac Arrest?   

Can an Impact Cause Cardiac Arrest?

Illustration of cardiac arrest, a heart stopping
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Daniel Kiss, M.D.

Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin suddenly collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest after making a tackle in Monday night’s football game. CPR was administered on the field to the 24 year old by team medical professionals, restoring his heart beat. He was rushed to the hospital in critical condition and the game was suspended. 

We connected with interventional cardiologist, Daniel Kiss, M.D., to discuss his take on what happened, why this is so rare, and ways to stay safe while playing contact sports. 

Can a tackle cause cardiac arrest? 

“It is extremely rare for a tackle to cause cardiac arrest, however what can happen is called commotio cordis”, explains Dr. Kiss. “This is when a blunt hit to the chest can cause the heart to stop. The timing of the hit, aligned with the heart’s rhythmic cycle is what is so precise – the impact occurring right before the heart was prepared to beat again, causing a disruption and the heart to stop beating.” 

“Again, it is extremely rare for this to happen, I liken it to getting struck by lightning, being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” adds Dr. Kiss. “This type of injury is rare and unusual for football, more closely associated with baseball, when a ball at a high speed hits a player’s chest.”

What happens when you have commotio cordis?

After a traumatic injury like commotio cordis, the heart will stop beating, the person will stop breathing and a pulse will not be found. If the person is not resuscitated right away, this can lead to sudden death.

For treatment, dial 911, start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) right away and find the nearest automated external defibrillator (AED) to deliver a shock to the heart. Getting care right away is vital to the survival of the person injured. 

Get CPR Certified 

Knowing CPR—or cardiopulmonary resuscitation – can save a life. 

“When cardiac arrest happens outside of the hospital, the best chance for a good outcome is early recognition of the event, good quality CPR administration, and early defibrillation,” adds Dr. Kiss. 

While you should take an accredited course, here are five easy steps to remember CPR

Safety Tips for Contact Sports

By taking the right precautions, contact sports can be played safely.  Here are 5 tips to stay safe while playing: 

  1. Know the rules of the game – all players should know the rules of the game and what types of contact are allowed.
  2. Wear appropriate gear – make sure everyone is properly equipped with the right safety gear. 
  3. Stay hydrated and take breaks – all players should be well hydrated and take breaks to avoid overuse and injury.
  4. Do not play through pain – if an injury occurs during a game or practice, stop and evaluate the situation, you should never play through an injury. 
  5. Lookout for your teammates – if something feels off and you think your teammate might be hurt, speak up and advocate for each other. 

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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