High School Athletes and Heart Health

High School Athletes and Heart Health

All over the world, students are heading back to class and back to athletic courts and fields. In addition to dedicating themselves to their studies, our children are preparing to lay it all out on the volleyball court, the football field, the lacrosse field or wherever they play their preferred sport.

Frightening, however, is this stat from The Championship Hearts Foundation, a Texas-based organization dedicated to screening young athletes for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) and other cardiac abnormalities: 1 in 250 students is at risk for heart abnormalities that could potentially lead to sudden cardiac death.

Because of this daunting statistic, high school athletes and students who participate in cheerleading, marching band, drill team, extreme sports or other strenuous activities are encouraged to get their hearts screened for possible deadly heart conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

A Genetic Disorder

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic disorder in which the heart muscle cells enlarge and cause the walls of the ventricles to thicken. The inside of the left ventricle becomes smaller, and holds less blood. The walls of the ventricle may stiffen, and as a result, the ventricle is less able to relax and fill with blood.

Some people who have HCM have no signs or symptoms, and the disease doesn’t affect their lives. Others — particularly athletes — have severe symptoms and complications. They may have shortness of breath, serious arrhythmias or an inability to exercise. And in rare cases, HCM can cause sudden cardiac arrest during vigorous physical activity.

HCM is different from athlete’s heart, which is commonly not dangerous and does not require treatment.

Important to Get Screened

Based on the current guidelines, most sports participation screening is based on personal and family history, and many physical exams do not involve testing such as electrocardiogram or echocardiogram which is often required for detection of HCM or other life-threatening heart conditions. But fortunately, many medical facilities and offices around U.S. are providing low- or no-cost screenings with ECGs for high school athletes as well as those that are considered at high risk.

Championship Hearts Foundation, for example, offers cost-effective and free heart screenings for athletes at Texas hospitals, as well as scientific research, community and professional education, and outreach and advocacy for making participation in sports safe. To find a screening program near you, visit Screen Across America, which lists programs in numerous cities and states.

Your child’s life might depend on it.

High School Athletes and Heart Health

Guidelines from the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association recently released guidelines that include recommendations for educating athletes and all front-line providers about warning signs and symptoms for early identification of sudden cardiac arrest-related conditions, and about actual recognition of sudden cardiac arrest occurrence. The AHA also encourages widespread availability of automatic external defibrillators, the development of development of emergency action plans and the promotion of hands-only CPR.