March 9, 2011

Ways to Protect Your Teen From Sudden Death

Posted in Heart Disease in the News, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:20 pm by keepyourhearthealthy

A heart with a white EKG peak superimposed & s...

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The tragic deaths of 2 young athletes has brought media attention back to the problem of Cardiac Arrest.

A 16 year-old track athlete in Florida and a 17 year-old basketball player in Michigan both passed away within the last week after strenuous activity.  Most people are shocked when they hear about these types of unexpected deaths.  Parents, teachers and coaches have no reason to suspect that a young, athletic student could have a serious heart problem leading to sudden death.  Even though it affects only about 1 out of every 250,000 young athletes, even that one tragic loss is too much for the loved ones left behind.

What can be done to prevent sudden death in teenagers? Traditionally, screening for heart problems that can lead to sudden death begins with questions about family history and concerning symptoms.  Some heart problems are genetic so expect your doctor to be concerned if anyone in your family has ever died suddenly.  Some people also may not realize they are having symptoms of a heart condition until it is too late.

In addition to questions about family history and symptoms, having an EKG test can be a useful tool for detecting heart trouble.  An EKG is a painless test that takes just a few minutes to obtain.  Unfortunately, a recent study out of Israel has discouraged mandatory screening with an EKG.  As a parent and a cardiac care provider, I will still encourage the voluntary testing with an EKG.  I firmly believe that everyone should be proactive when it comes to their health (and your kid’s health too!).

The first step in being proactive is to fill out a screening questionnaire and bring it to your teen’s pediatrician.  For the most part, your pediatrician will only need to address questions marked as “Yes.”  Next you can request that your teen get an EKG (electrocardiogram).  Your pediatrician will read the results of the EKG immediately and recommend further cardiac evaluation if needed.

If you are unable to obtain an EKG from a doctor’s office, there are several programs which provide free EKGs for high school students.

  1. Chicago
  2. Maryland
  3. North Carolina
  4. Tampa

If you need to find one in your area, use a search engine (google, yahoo, bing, etc.) to search for “high school heart screening” in your state.  You may not find anything within your vicinity right away.  Consider asking your school administrators if they could host a heart screening event.

Another way you can protect your teen’s life is to make sure that all of the sporting arenas they play at have AED’s (Automatic External Defibrillators).  When a person collapses and the pads are placed on their chest, AED’s provide life-saving electric shocks while waiting for an ambulance.