An increasing number of health experts are recommending screening for heart disease in children, especially those who play sports. One in 100,000 people ages 12 to 24 are estimated to die suddenly as a result of congenital undiagnosed heart malfunctions, and children who play sports are nearly three times more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than their nonathletic counterparts.
Often these are surprise attacks that are due to inherited problems that children are born with. Experts say the problems kids suffer are typically electrical, like abnormal heart rhythms, or structural, like a thickening of the heart muscle. Both of these problems are exacerbated during exertion when kids play sports.
Typically, schools require kids to provide a family history and have a simple physical exam before participating in sports. But there are those who say more should be done.
A recent screening of more than 2,000 high school athletes in the Houston, Texas area was done using electrocardiogram (or EKG) to measure the electrical activity of the heart. About 10% (200) of the students had an abnormal EKG. About 1% (20 kids) were told it was too dangerous for them to continue in sports. Three students had serious heart problems, including one who suffered from a rare disease and is now awaiting a heart transplant.
Some health experts argue that performing EKGs on all student athletes would be too costly. There’s no official policy from the American College of Cardiology, but officials say most members support screening student athletes.
The American Heart Association suggests that athletes who are identified as at risk for heart problems as a result of a family history or physical exam be referred for further cardiovascular examination, which could include an EKG.
Founder and Ultra-Endurance Athlete
The P.A.C.E. Fitness Foundation, Inc.