Could Your Teen Athlete Have a Deadly Heart Condition?

Published on: 02/07/2019

We’ve all seen the headlines. A young athlete collapses during a game or sports practice due to an undetected heart condition. And a family is left to grieve.

Every three days, sudden cardiac death (SCD) takes the life of a young U.S. athlete, such as a girl playing soccer, a boy at basketball practice or a high school football player.

“Usually, there are no advance signs of SCD, and a typical school or sports physical examination won’t detect a potentially dangerous heart problem,” said Anthony Rossi, Director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. “That’s why it’s important that young athletes receive electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) screening.” This simple heart test takes only a few minutes, and can mean the difference between life and death.

Since 2011, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital has conducted 27,388 free EKG screenings and identified 20 young people at risk of sudden cardiac death. Most were able to resume playing sports after a minimally invasive procedure to correct a heart anomaly.

Getting an EKG screening is particularly important if your child has suffered any of these symptoms:

  • Frequently feeling faint
  • Feeling dizzy during or after exercise
  • A racing heartbeat during or after exercise
  • Chest pains of any kind

Also, the risk of SCD increases if someone else in the family has had a heart attack or heart arrhythmia.

If the EKG screening detects a possible problem, a cardiologist may recommend other diagnostic tests to get a better understanding of the child’s heart. SCD is often related to congenital heart conditions, such as abnormal chambers or valves, or to an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, a coronary artery problem or an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a viral infection.

If a young athlete does suffer a sudden heart attack, call 911 immediately and use an automatic external defibrillator (AED) to keep the child’s heart beating until help arrives.

So, if your child is participating in school sports, make an appointment for an EKG screening. Nicklaus Children’s Hospital offers a free EKG screening program with screenings available at several South Florida locations. Please call 1-855-624-3547, and push 3 for outpatient scheduling. It could be the most important call you ever make.

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