Stories of student athletes collapsing due to cardiac arrest during sporting events are unfortunately making the news more and more. The sad reality behind many of these tragic deaths is they could possibly have been avoided. The "what if" scenario.
No Warning Signs
Many athletes of all ages succumb to heart conditions they didn't know they had because of a lack of screening. If you're an athlete, you're at the peak of the physical condition. The idea a person can run for miles without breathing heavily would signify to most people their heart is pretty strong. However, this may not always be the case. As athletes are getting bigger, faster and stronger their hearts are pumping out blood at an increased rate. Constant stress on the heart may be weakening the heart muscle without creating significant symptoms as a warning.
Understanding the Problem
This isn't to say every athlete is at risk for a heart problem as many hearts are strong enough to deal with the physical demands of being an athlete. But the fact remains an average of 12 young athletes, or one in every 100,000, die of heart complications in the United States each year.
The majority of these deaths are due to congenital cardiac malformations, the most common being hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), or abnormal rhythms. HCM is disease in which the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick, making it harder for the heart to pump blood. Unfortunately, there aren't usually any visible associated symptoms with the disease prior to cardiac arrest. There are some genetic traits such as Long QT Syndrome, Brugada Syndrome, Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT), Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC), but those aren't often known by the parents, child or their physician.
Taking the Proper Precautions
During an athlete's yearly physical, they're tested for very basic problems such as a hernia or elevated levels of certain elements in their urine. But more extensive cardiovascular examination isn't always standard practice (Note: Younger children are not typically screened because structural abnormalities including abnormal heart muscle thickening, which is the most common cause of sudden death in the U.S., don't become apparent until later in adolescence.). While a physical may not catch heart complications, there is a test with those probabilities readily available.
A student heart check costs about $25 and is normally offered by a local hospital. The standard test performed during a cardiac screening is an electrocardiogram (ECG). During an ECG, sensors are attached to ones chest to detect the electrical activity of the heart. The device measures the timing and duration of each electrical phase in your heartbeat to reveal disturbances. Injured heart muscle won't conduct electrical impulses normally and therefore will have differed beat intervals.
If you have a student athlete, it's important to get them checked. While chances are they aren't at any risk, checking for even the smallest possibility is enough to prevent another tragedy. If the test isn't required by your child's school or sports organization, reaching out to their coaches or other officials to educate them about testing can help you take prevention a step further.
Proper diet is also important in protecting the heart. Speak with your child's physician about their dietary needs, especially before adding nutritional supplements to their routine if they've been diagnosed with a medical condition.
While American Heart Month has officially ended, it's still important for us remember to never take for granted what out heart can do. If you're looking for a product to boost your heart health, eVitamins has what you need.
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