When the average person thinks about heart disease and cardiac conditions, they might picture a middle-aged man who has eaten his fair share of hamburgers and bacon. But do they think about a highly conditioned high school athlete? Heart conditions are not exclusive to older or out of shape populations. It is a sad reality that adolescent-aged kids die from undiagnosed cardiomyopathies (disease of the heart muscle) far too often. According to the American Heart Association, just over 1,300 high school and college-age students die of cardiovascular issues each year. 76 of these being student athletes. A former athlete of mine was one of them. Cardiac screenings are one step families can take to try to catch and diagnose cardiomyopathies early. These screenings sometimes get organized in communities because of a tragedy like sudden cardiac death. However, tragedy does not have to strike in order to be proactive.
Currently, the American Heart Association does not recommend a mass screening program for schools. Instead, they use a 12-point screening tool that consists of personal and family history as well as a brief cardiac assessment of listening for heart sounds and feeling pulses. This does not include an echocardiogram or EKG unless abnormalities are found in the initial assessment.
Many cardiomyopathies do not show signs or symptoms until a cardiac event occurs, such as sudden cardiac death. EKGs are painless and simple procedures that involve little to no risk. This can be done yearly when student athletes renew their physical. Schools can even partner with hospitals or other companies to do free screenings each year. Early detection and diagnosis are extremely imperative with cardiomyopathies. Regular cardiac screening can save lives. If you are concerned about your athlete's cardiac health, talk with your doctor about scheduling a screening today.
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