The NFL is investigating all possible causes of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, which led to his midgame collapse against the Cincinnati Bengals, according to NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills .
“I know there’s been a lot of theories and a lot of talk about commotio cordis, and it’s definitely possible,” Sills said Wednesday during a press call.
Commotio cordis occurs when severe trauma to the chest disrupts the electrical charge of the heart, causing dangerous fibrillations.
Sills said it was a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning it could be the diagnosis if doctors couldn’t find any other cause.
“You have to have the right type of punch hit in the right place on the chest with the right amount of force at the right time in this heart cycle. So a lot of things have to line up for that to happen,” Sills said.
Doctors will look for any birth defects or other abnormalities with Hamlin’s heart, he said. Every player has a physical exam before each season, and doctors take a detailed medical history, which includes American Heart Association screening guidelines related to potential heart problems.
Sills said each time a player is removed from the field, the NFL and its medical experts conduct a detailed review of what happened. They will also look specifically at the role of protective equipment.
“I think that’s something we definitely want to look at,” he said. “We know padding on the sternum can protect against blows in situations where commotio cordis is a consideration, so that’s something that will definitely be discussed.”
Currently, players’ shoulder pads usually fit in an area that covers the sternum, he said.
Sills said that in some cases the medical team won’t be able to determine the cause of the problem.
Whatever the cause, what helped in this situation was that the NFL had the right people and the right equipment in place to provide “an extremely quick response,” he said.