Sudden deaths of student athletes are tragic events that have considerable impact on a community. These deaths are often caused by unsuspected abnormalities. Andover Pediatrics is dedicated to the cardiovascular health of our children. We hope that you will find the following information helpful.
The exact incidence of athletic deaths is not known, but it is considered to be a rare occurrence. The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that sudden deaths occur in the range of 1:200,000 young people of high school age per year.
These are several heart conditions that can lead to sudden death. The most common causes are from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and coronary artery abnormalities. For a complete list, refer to this pdf from the American Heart Association’s website.
Although many athletes have no symptoms, there are some at risk for sudden death who may exhibit symptoms. They may experience exertional chest pain or discomfort, unexplained shortness of breath/fatigue associated with exercise. These symptoms should be reported immediately to your primary care physician.
An EKG is a noninvasive procedure that evaluated the electrical activity of the heart. When conducted by a pediatric trained technician and read by a board certified pediatric cardiologist, this can provide early diagnosis of rare, potential fatal arrhythmias and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Subsequent treatment would prevent sudden cardiac arrest.
While an EKG has potential to help diagnosis some cardiovascular disease there are drawbacks when mass screening all athletes.
What about companies that offer EKG screening for a fee? The American Heart Association has published guidelines to help physicians screen for underlying heart disease. A work-up can be considered if there are hints from personal history, family history, and physical exam. That work-up would include an EKG. It is recommended that you speak with your physician to assess for risk of sudden death.
Adapted from the AHA statement regarding preparticipation screening for cardiovascular abnormalities in competitive athletes. For a full statement, visit the AHA website.