A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Sudden cardiac death – are my kids at risk?

sports play on chalkboard with x's and heartsWhen a student athlete collapses during a game, it’s undoubtedly frightening. Parents worry if it could happen to one child, why couldn’t it happen to their own?

“It’s rare, occurring in less than two in 300,000 young competitive athletes,” said Dr. Uzoma Okorie, a pediatric cardiologist at Marshfield Clinic.

Sudden cardiac death is most commonly caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the muscles of the heart are severely thickened, making it difficult for blood to exit the heart.

This condition is often inherited, so parents should find out if any family history of sudden cardiac death exists.

Pre-participation sports screenings help identify heart problems

Screening all students at every school isn’t practical but this type of information can be included in pre-participation sports screenings.

That screening typically includes questions about whether the student has ever passed out or has had chest pain, chest tightness or abnormal heart beats during exercise. The doctor performing the screening also will listen for any unusual sounds, like heart murmurs.

“Pediatricians are at the forefront of all screening exams, including sports screenings,” Okorie said. They refer children to pediatric specialists if they detect anything uncommon in an exam, clinical history or family history.

Onsite AEDs can help save lives

To prevent a death from sudden cardiac arrest, make sure your school has an automated external defibrillator (AED) in a well-marked spot where it’s easily found. An AED is a lightweight, portable device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm.

Ideally, the school will also have people trained in AED use, although the machines typically have easy-to-use instructions printed on them. Most AEDs will even give you voice prompts to let you know if and when you should send a shock to the heart.

You can often find AEDs in places with large numbers of people, such as shopping malls, golf courses, businesses, airports, airplanes, casinos, convention centers, hotels, sports venues and schools.

Well-child exams are good opportunities to discuss health concerns with you child’s pediatrician.

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