Health Experts Call For Heart Checkups For Kids In growing numbers, health experts are recommending screening for heart disease in children, especially those who play sports. One in 100,000 people ages 12 to 24 are estimated to die suddenly as a result of congenital undiagnosed heart malfunctions. And children who play sports are nearly three times more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than their nonathletic counterparts.
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Health Experts Call For Heart Checkups For Kids

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Health Experts Call For Heart Checkups For Kids

Health Experts Call For Heart Checkups For Kids

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Some health experts also want to screen middle school and high school athletes for heart problems. NPR's Patti Neighmond has our report.

PATTI NEIGHMOND: Children who play sports are nearly three times more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than their non-athletic counterparts. Houston cardiologist Thomas Debauche.

NEIGHMOND: Few of these kids are actually experiencing sudden death while they're in class or at home. It's pretty much while they're in training or while they're on the field performing because that's when the adrenaline's flowing and...

NEIGHMOND: And the heart is performing at its peak. There are no warning signs. These are problems children are born with. Cardiologist Douglas Zipes says the problems are typically electrical, abnormal hearth rhythms, or structural, a thickening of the heart muscle, both exacerbated during exertion when kids play sports.

NEIGHMOND: The adrenaline that is released can stimulate this abnormally thick heart muscle and cause a fatal heart rhythm problem that is a very rapid heartbeat with no effective contraction, no blood being ejected to the brain and other organs, and you die.

NEIGHMOND: Debauche recently screened over 2,000 high school athletes in the Houston area using electrocardiograms or EKGs to measure the electrical activity of the heart. About 10 percent had abnormal EKGs, like Lewis Anthony who suffered from asthma.

NEIGHMOND: And it wasn't anything too serious to where I had to change what I was doing. Like, I was still able to play soccer and run and I could breathe just fine.

NEIGHMOND: But Debauche told Anthony and his parents to closely monitor the asthma, which can cause the heart muscle to thicken. Others with abnormal EKGs got medication for blood pressure or for abnormal heart rhythms. About one percent were told it was too dangerous for them to continue in sports. But three students had serious heart problems, including one who suffered a rare disease where the heart muscle is spongy and contracts poorly.

NEIGHMOND: He was literally running the stadium stairs. At the time we found him, he was preparing for track season by running up and down the stadium stairs.

NEIGHMOND: Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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