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Winning Hearts and Minds

The headlines rally entire communities around a teen: A developing athlete collapses on the field and is later diagnosed with a previously unnoticed heart condition.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital sees a case like this nearly every few years, while the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in high school athletes is approximately one in every 100,000. In 2015, two teens from Batesville High School collapsed in separate incidents and were revived using CPR and AEDs on the field. Today both are successful Batesville alumni who receive continued heart care at Arkansas Children’s.

Parents, coaches and teens all wonder, “What can I do to prevent this from happening to us?” 

Cardiologists agree that identifying athletes at risk is key to preventing sudden cardiac arrest among teens. 

Cardiologist Dr. Brian Eble and Arkansas Children’s urge parents to be champions for their children by:

  1. Making sure they participate in annual athletic health screenings and
     
  2. Completing comprehensive questionnaires that identify athletes at risk based on personal or family history.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about what causes these rare cases of sudden cardiac arrest in teens. Research has shown a combination of underlying disease and high-intensity sports play a significant role. 

American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have developed a comprehensive health screening to help identify which athletes might be at risk. Their checklist looks at criteria ranging from chest pain during exercise to a history of relatives younger than 50 who died from heart disease.

There are steps doctors can take with their patients to make sure they can still participate as an athlete as long as the risk factors are identified.

Half of the children who die in these scenarios have personal or family warning signs. The most worrisome and frequent signs include:

  • A history of passing out, especially during exercise or to noises,
     
  • Frequent exercise-induced chest pain or shortness of breath,
     
  • Having a relative died suddenly and under 50 years of age, and
     
  • A family history of specific heart conditions.

Some families want to know whether every athlete should receive an ECG. Dr. Eble shares that these tests are difficult to interpret and don’t necessarily show relevant markers for a heart condition. At this time an ECG is not recommended for all athletes in the U.S. until more conclusive research can be done.

Instead, Dr. Eble and experts in his field recommend primary prevention and preparation. 

Families can develop emergency preparedness plans in the event a family member, colleague or athlete experiences a cardiac episode at an athletic event.

Teach your teens CPR, even if it’s hands-only CPR. Make sure everyone in the family knows how to use an AED (Automated External Defibrillators) if there is access to one.

Be champions for children by working with your local schools to develop emergency response programs should a fellow athlete experience the unthinkable.

Finally, be honest on those evaluations and questionnaires at the doctor’s office. They pinpoint warning signs and give your physician important information that can help protect your all-star!

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