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Sudden Cardiac Death in Young Athletes

August 13, 2013

As a high school athlete there are many things you think about: stamina, running, physical exertion. Justin Smith, is a member of Greenbrier High's tennis team.  He thinks about his bones and his muscles, and in this heat, he thinks about staying hydrated.

But perhaps the most serious thing is one Justin isn't thinking about, sudden cardiac death, "It's pretty scary. I just want to make sure I'm healthy."The possibility concerns his mom, Sondra, as well, "You don't think about cardiac problems all the time and I think that may be why people are so surprised when it happens to somebody who looks very healthy." Justin and his mom came to Doctors Hospital for a test called an echo-cardiogram. The test can tell whether someone is at risk for sudden cardiac death. Thankfully, Justin isn't.

Sondra Smith says the test gave her peace about Justin's health, "It was important to me to identify whether or not he had any hidden risks, something in his heart that could cause him trouble and if he doesn't have it, which he doesn't, it puts my mind at rest so now I don't have to worry about that. One less thing to worry about."Dr. Mark Newton says the test has been around a while, but it's being conducted on a new group, "It's kind of a new target audience, if you want to call it that. A new target of people due to some of the publicity that's been around, there are some concerns about hidden heart defects."Most athletes, like Justin, aren't at risk. Only about one hundred of these deaths occur in young athletes every year, but the scary part is that eighty percent of those athletes never show any symptoms.

There is one problem with making this test a requirement for student-athletes during their annual physical:  the cost.  A screening can cost several hundred dollars out of pocket, and many insurance companies only cover adult screenings.Dr. Newton says the small risk shouldn't keep athletes off the field or court, "There's a risk involved, but there's a greater benefit involved with athletic activity."

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