Early Screening for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Could Prevent Sudden Death in Young Athletes

With Spring and Summer sports seasons rapidly approaching, young athletes everywhere will begin putting new stresses on their hearts. We recommend having young athletes you love examined by their physician for heart conditions before the season starts, since genetic heart abnormalities are the most common cause of sudden death in young athletes. The most common heart abnormality that causes sudden death is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a genetic enlarging of the heart, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

“Hypertrophic” means an abnormal growth of stiff muscle fibers in the heart, which makes it difficult for the heart to relax and fill the heart’s chambers with blood. The heart pumps normally, but with not enough blood, especially during vigorous exercise. Some children and young adults have no symptoms, while others have abnormal heart rhythms, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain or fainting.

Screening America recommends screening for HCM in young athletes ages 18 to 34 years old. If your child’s primary care physician suspects HCM, he or she will refer your child to a cardiologist for tests. Testing for HCM includes an electrocardiogram, or EKG, a test which sends electrical signals through the heart, an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) to check for thickened walls and blood tests for abnormal proteins and sugars in the heart that point to increased wall thickness, according to the AHA.

If your Saint Francis cardiologist suspects HCM, he or she will recommend not playing competitive sports. Your family member may be allowed to participate in low-impact activities at the discretion of their cardiologist.

Ask your child’s physician to check for any heart abnormalities during their sports physical at Saint Francis. A screening for HCM could prevent the devastating death of a loved one. You can make an appointment with a cardiologist at Partners in Cardiovascular Health at 302.421.4828.

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