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eZine:  Web's Heart


Young athletes encouraged to get “back-to-school” heart checkups

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Those back-to-school heart checkups really can make a difference ...

Heart disease, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, is the leading cause of sudden death in healthy young athletes. Young people whose parents or siblings have been diagnosed with heart disease might need more than a routine “back-to-school” exam before engaging in sports activities said Dr. Jeffrey A. Towbin, chief of cardiology at Texas Children's Heart Center.

Heart attack is one instance where getting treatment promptly can mean the difference between life and death. Surprisingly, it's possible to feel pain in the arms or throat, for instance, but not in the chest itself. Some heart attack survivors also say they experience a feeling of pressure or a "tightening" in the chest rather than pain. Other symptoms can include feeling unwell, feeling giddy or faint, feeling anxious, sweating , vomiting or feeling nauseous. A person may also look pale and ill.

Heart checkups are an important deciding factor

“Frequently there are no symptoms of HCM in younger athletes,” said Towbin, also professor of pediatric cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine. “The disease, commonly a ‘silent killer,’ results when the muscle mass in the left ventricle ‘hypertrophies’ or thickens without apparent cause. Sudden cardiac death typically occurs because of a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system. The lower chambers of the heart go into a fast and disorganized contraction, known as ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia. The heart may not recover on its own,” Towbin said.

Symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, light-headedness, fainting or blackouts, may be indicative of heart disease, but should be evaluated by a physician and treated if HCM is diagnosed. In the majority of patients with heart muscle disease, a routine physical exam may not indicate any abnormalities with the heart. It’s best to have an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), which produces a picture of the heart that a qualified physician can evaluate for abnormalities. Electrocardiograms may also help diagnose other potentially dangerous heart abnormalities such as rhythm problems. “With proper detection and treatment, people with heart muscle disease can live active lives, and in some cases, play non-competitive sports,” Towbin said.

News media contact: Laura Frnka, Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, Texas 832-824-2645 Pager: 832-824-7243, no. 6623