(AP) - Specialists at Texas Children's say that heart disease is the leading cause of sudden death in healthy athletes. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, light-headedness and/or blackouts may or may not be indicative of heart disease, but should be diagnosed and treated by a physician.
Sudden cardiac death is an abrupt occurrence where the heart ceases to function and results in death within minutes.
The most common cause of sudden cardiac death is usually due to a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system. The lower chambers of the heart go into a fast and disorganized contraction, known as ventricular fibrillation. The heart cannot recover from ventricular fibrillation on its own.
If a child experiences complications from heart disease while playing sports, an automated external defibrillator (AED), a device that automatically analyzes a cardiac rhythm and advises a rescuer when to deliver a shock, may help save that athlete’s life. These defibrillators, similar to those used aboard passenger aircrafts, are easy to use and require minimal formal medical training.
"In the majority of patients with heart disease, a routine physical exam may not indicate any abnormalities with the heart," said Dr. Timothy Bricker, chief of Texas Children’s Heart Center and professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
Parents and children need to be educated about symptoms of heart disease, and know when and how they should be tested.
There are few symptoms or complaints that are completely unique to heart disease. Symptoms that may indicate a need to be evaluated include shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, light-headedness and/or blackouts. Many of the symptoms may or may not be indicative of heart disease, but should be diagnosed and treated by a physician.
Heart disease can be inherited, so children whose parents or siblings have been diagnosed with heart disease should be screened.
The most accurate method of diagnosing heart disease is with an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram produces a picture of the heart that a qualified physician can evaluate for abnormalities. Other tests, including mobile echo screenings, may be inaccurate and give parents and children a false sense of security and encourage them to ignore potentially dangerous symptoms.
"With proper detection and treatment, people with heart disease can live an active life, including playing non-competitive sports," said Dr. Arnold Fenrich, cardiologist at Texas Children's Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
Dr. Fenrich also sits on the medical advisory committee of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the organization that oversees extracurricular academic and athletic competitions among Texas public schools