From Yashpal Sharma to Christian Eriksen: Are athletes as vulnerable to heart attacks as others? Here’s what doctors say

From Yashpal Sharma to Christian Eriksen: Are athletes as vulnerable to heart attacks as others? Here’s what doctors say

Towards the end of the first half, the 29-year-old midfielder collapsed face-first to the turf and lay motionless for several minutes while his teammates huddled around him and medical personnel rushed to the pitch to try to resuscitate his heart.
Eriksen had suffered a cardiac arrest and had to be given life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the field before being taken to the hospital.
It was a sight familiar to football aficionados. Fit as a fiddle, many would think, but what led to this cardiac arrest then?


Christain Eriksen is not the first footballer to have collapsed on the pitch due to a heart issue. There have been numerous instances of sports stars dying unexpectedly in the past.

Cameroonian professional footballer Marc-Vivien Foe died of cardiac arrest on the pitch in 2003.

Fabrice Ndala Muamba, an English professional footballer, collapsed during the first half of an FA Cup quarter-final match between Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in 2012. He did, however, survive the attack.



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The deaths of elite athletes, including those who have retired from active play, such as Yashpal Sharma on July 13th, have sparked debate about why cardiac arrests occur.

Sharma, an ace cricketer and considered to be the ‘fittest of them all’, like Dilip Vengsarkar, died after he returned from his morning walk. However, Sharma’s former Captain Kapil Dev, survived a heart attack in October last year and so did former India captain, Sourav Ganguly.


According to Dr G Ramesh, Consultant Interventional Cardiologist at Yashoda Hospitals, sudden cardiac death or cardiac arrest in athletes can occur for two main reasons.

“Young adults with an arrhythmic substrate or predisposition to having abnormal heart rhythms due to genetic make-up, as happened recently with an international footballer.”

Experts say that the diagnostic tests in these cases include an ECG echo and stress test, but many cases may be missed.

Dr Ramesh, however, cites a completely different reason for the attack that killed cricketer Yashpal Sharma.

“The other cases are recent examples of our cricketers who have suffered a heart attack that was either treated in time, as with Sourav Ganguly or Kapil Dev, or proved fatal, as with Yashpal Sharma. The cause in these cases is a sudden plaque rupture in the coronary arteries, resulting in artery blockage and, in some cases, sudden cardiac death,” said Dr Ramesh.

In the case of attacks among younger adults, such as Eriksen, doctors say the treatment will be the insertion of an implantable cardiac defibrillator as well as the avoidance of predisposing factors such as extreme exertion.

The BBC reported that “sales of defibrillators have increased sharply in the aftermath of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest during Denmark’s opening game at Euro 2020.”


Defibrillators are devices that send an electric pulse or shock to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat. They are used to prevent or treat arrhythmias, a condition in which the heart beats abnormally fast or slowly.

Defibrillators can also restore the heart’s beating if the heart suddenly stops.

Experts say that having quick access to CPR and a defibrillator can increase a person’s chances of survival by nearly 90 per cent, as it did in the case of Christian Eriksen.


The reasons behind the cardiac attack that killed Yashpal Sharma or landed Kapil Dev and Sourav Ganguly in hospital could be ” plaque rupture that generally happens in arteries with cholesterol deposition,” said Dr Ramesh.

Among the causes of cholesterol deposition are a family history of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, extreme physical or mental stress, and dietary habits.

“A balanced lifestyle with regular health check-ups, including an ECG echo and stress test, would be the best way to prevent cholesterol deposition,” Dr Ramesh added.

In addition, controlling risk factors like diabetes and hypertension is also essential.

Many athletes engage in excessive exertion at times, which is not recommended. Meanwhile, everyone, including athletes, must undergo regular cardiac tests in order to detect issues that are frequently asymptomatic.

Cardiomyopathy, an inherited disease that affects the size, shape, or thickness of the heart muscle, and acute myocarditis, or heart muscle inflammation, are two other causes of cardiac arrest.


There is a distinction between cardiac arrest and heart attack, according to experts.

Cardiac arrest is a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system. The average heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute. If the heart begins to beat at a rapid rate of 250,300 or 400 beats per minute, the heart will be unable to cope, and blood pressure will fall. In this situation, the brain’s blood supply is compromised, and if the brain does not receive blood for three minutes, it can cause irreversible brain damage.

In another situation, if the heart stops suddenly, it means the heart rate has slowed to the point where it is unable to generate inner blood for the rest of the body. These two events can occur simultaneously.

“So, a patient can have cardiac arrest followed by a heart attack [or vice versa],” says Dr Ravi Gupta, Wockhardt Hospital’s Cardiologist.

“Cardiac arrest can occur in conjunction with a heart attack. If we are fortunate enough to diagnose ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation ahead of time, it means that the patient has survived due to ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, which requires implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD), implementation of this machine will give an internal shock to the patient and the patient will survive a cardiac arrest,” explained Dr Ravi Gupta.

According to doctors, the most common cause of death in any situation is cardiopulmonary arrest, which occurs when patients stop breathing and their hearts stop beating. When a patient suffers from acute MI or a heart attack, the heart stops beating, and the only cause of death is cardiac arrest.

Yashpal Sharma to Christian Eriksen

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