Monitoring the Heart Health of Active Kids

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From grade school to graduation and beyond, an active lifestyle and healthy living are important. There are many young athletes who embrace this concept, play sports year round, and love every minute of it! The majority of these kids are healthy and ready to take on the competition. In recent years, we’ve seen some alarming stories in the news concerning active children and teens who have suffered or died because of heart-related issues.

What can we do as parents to monitor our kids’ heart health? Can these tragic events be prevented? Claudia Vergara, who lost her 11 year old daughter to a heart defect, thinks so. Vergara recommends, “All children who are participating in sports should be getting an EKG along with their physical every year.”1 An EKG (electrocardiogram) maps the electrical patterns of the heart and tests for irregular rhythms. Families who share in the pain of sudden cardiac arrest agree with Vergara. In fact, the family of Chase Morris, a teen who died from an enlarged heart, sponsors the Chase Morris Foundation, a charity focused on bringing EKG information and resources to families in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area.2

But there are two sides to every coin. Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Wesley Covitz makes a case for “striking a balance between saving lives and expensive prescreening measures.”3 Should active children and teen athletes be screened for heart defects? We’re here to help you weigh the pros and cons so that you can make the best decision for your family.

EKG Pros

  • EKGs provide peace of mind for parents and caregivers. If you have concerns about your child’s heart health, why not have him screened? Some organizations even provide low cost or free EKG screenings for young athletes.
  • EKGs catch 60% of heart issues that could otherwise go undetected.2 Many cardiac defect patients are asymptomatic, which make the traditional sports physical screening inadequate. EKG screenings are invaluable to patients who don’t display any symptoms.
  • According to cardiologist Dr. Joseph Galichia, “countries like Italy have nearly eradicated the incidence of Sudden Cardiac Arrest by doing regular EKGs.”2

EKG Cons

  • Less than 1 in 100,000 young athletes die of sudden cardiac death each year.3 The chances that your child has a heart defect are rare.
  • A false-positive on an EKG could lead to unnecessary and expensive procedures. If the screening proves to be a false-positive, parents risk spending funds that could have been spent in other areas to improve the lives of their children.
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the potential harms of this routine annual screening exceed the potential benefit.”2
  • Dr. Covitz states that EKGs “create more confusion than answers.”3 As a pediatric cardiologist, Covitz says he understands the importance of a sound diagnosis.

So what is the ideal action plan to protect the heart health of your family? Get involved with your kids. Watch your child for irregular or unusual behavior. In particular, keep a watchful eye out for symptoms like shortness of breath and chest pain. If they exhibit these symptoms or there is a history of cardiac issues in the family, play it safe and get them checked out. Dr. Covitz recommends that children be screened specifically by a pediatric cardiologist, as they have special training and insight into diagnosing childhood heart defects. 

Join the conversation! As parents, what is your role in monitoring your kids’ heart health? Do you support routine EKG screening for young athletes? We'd love to hear from you. Post your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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