There have been several recent news stories about young, teenage athletes dying during sporting events, including the poignant story of a teenager who made a game-winning shot in his basketball game and collapsed seconds later. These stories are heartbreaking and so unimaginable that the deaths of these children often make the national news and get people thinking about ways to prevent this from happening to their children.
It is important to know that despite the media coverage, sudden death in young athletes is exceedingly rare – about 1 in 200,000 high school athletes. The majority of these deaths are related to undiagnosed heart conditions, some of which can be genetic and completely silent.
The best method of prevention is to make sure that your child is seen by a physician for his or her pre-participation sports physical and once a year for regular check-ups. Although these conditions can be silent, some do cause heart murmurs, which a physician would be able to detect on physical exam.
If your child has a history of fainting during exercise or with exertion, they should be evaluated immediately as that may be a sign of a structural problem with the heart or the coronary arteries.
Lastly, if you have a family history of diseases such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or Long QT syndrome, or if a family member has died during exercise, in a drowning accident, or in a single car crash, speak with your child’s pediatrician about potentially screening your child for genetic heart conditions.