Miami Children’s Hospital Combats Sudden Cardiac Death

For parents of young athletes, the risk of injury is always a concern. What if they fall? What if they break a bone? But few parents ever consider that their child could ever die of a heart defect while playing sports.

Earlier this year, a study done at the University of Washington in Seattle found that sudden cardiac death, also referred to as SCD, take the lives of more children than has been estimated in previous years. And according to the American Heart Association, 6,000 U.S. children suffer some sort of cardiac arrest annually, with only 6% surviving.

“Every three days, sudden cardiac death takes the life of a young U.S. athlete,” says Dr. Anthony Rossi, Medical Director of the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Miami Children’s Hospital, a renowned medical facility whose Congenital Heart Institute has been nationally recognized by U.S. News and World Report. “These young people often die without exhibiting advance signs of heart problems. What’s more, a typical school or sports physical examination won’t detect a potentially dangerous heart problem.”

That’s why it’s important for parents to have their child’s health assessed before letting him or her play strenuous sports such as basketball and football. These two activities are associated with the highest incidence of sudden cardiac death. “While the majority of active children and young adults grow up with perfectly healthy hearts,” notes Dr. Rossi, “there are some youngsters with underlying heart defects that go undetected until something tragic happens.”

Being aware of the warning signs can assist parents in identifying if their child could have a heart condition. Tell your child’s doctor if, while playing sports, he or she has ever:

  • Had shortness of breath
  • Needed frequent breaks during sports/exercise
  • Complained that his or her heart is racing
  • Fainted

These signs are often indications of health issues such as asthma and heat stroke, but can also be warning signs of heart problems. Also, mention to your child’s pediatrician if you tend to faint, frequently feel light-headed or tire very easily when exercising. If you have a heart condition such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)—more commonly known as an enlarged heart – there’s a 50 percent chance your child will have it too.

In an effort to help identify those at risk for sudden cardiac death, Miami Children’s Hospital recently launched a new initiative that provides free electrocardiograms (also known as ECGs or EKGs) to middle and high school athletes. The screenings are available by appointment at the hospital’s main campus, as well as its outpatient centers throughout the region.

“An ECG can help identify children with heart abnormalities so that they can receive the treatment they need for a long and healthy life,” says Dr. Rossi. “No child should die from a preventable cause.”

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