More than 8 million students play high school and college sports in the U.S., but is there enough attention paid to the threat young athletes face when it comes to their hearts?
Undetected heart conditions cause sudden cardiac arrest in student athletes, often during physical activity (but not always!)
Congenital heart defects are present at birth. They are the most common type of birth defect in the U.S. and include abnormalities in the heart’s structure, electrical system, and other abnormalities that affect the function of the heart. According to the American Heart Association, more than 1.3 million Americans alive today have some form of congenital heart defect.
Other types of heart abnormalities are inherited and develop with growth, usually in late teens or early twenties. Still other diseases of the heart muscle can develop as a result of viral infections and certain medications. These types tend to be progressive and can worsen quickly.
There are rarely any signs leading up to a cardiac arrest in a young athlete. Oftentimes the first symptom of an undetected heart condition is sudden cardiac arrest.
Students who are physically fit and active may be completely unaware they have something wrong with their hearts. The majority simply do not experience anything indicating a heart problem. Others believe shortness of breath or dizziness is caused by exertion—not a heart condition—and will work harder to get stronger, putting their lives at risk. Physical exams (including family history and listening to the heart with a stethoscope) cannot pick up most underlying cardiac issues.
Prevention is key. Cardiac testing can detect unsuspected heart conditions in student athletes before a cardiac event happens. Early detection-
♥ Helps save lives by giving a student the chance a stop a life-threatening activity
♥ Allows for an identified heart condition to be treated or monitored
♥ Provides knowledge about a condition that could affect a student in the present and/or future
Electrocardiograms (EKGs) measure the electrical activity of the heart, detecting electrical abnormalities. Echocardiograms (echoes) are ultrasounds of the heart that identify functional and structural abnormalities that cannot be detected by an EKG. Both tests should always be performed because there are serious cardiac abnormalities that can be detected through an echocardiogram, but not through an EKG, and vice versa.
Wimbledon Athletics, the athletic testing division of Wimbledon Health Partners, teams up with high schools, colleges, universities, and sports facilities to test student athletes for vascular conditions common to athletes and for heart abnormalities that can cause sudden cardiac arrest. Learn more about bringing testing to your school.