Allowing your child to participate in sports builds mental strength and character, helps to control weight, and benefits the cardiovascular system. Plus, it establishes a pattern of physical activity that will, hopefully, extend into adulthood. In the majority of cases, sports participation is a positive for a child. Unfortunately, in rare cases, an athletic child can have undiagnosed heart disease which can lead to sudden death syndrome in the face of strenuous activity. How do you know if your child is at risk?
Although children are routinely given sports screening physicals by their physicians before being cleared to participate in sports, in some cases underlying heart disease that could lead to sudden death syndrome is difficult to detect. There may be subtle signs and symptoms that only you as a parent would recognize which is why it’s important to pre-screen before taking your child to get his or her sports physical. In this way, you can call any potential problems to the attention of your child’s doctor.
What are the signs that an athletic child might be at risk for sudden death syndrome? Sudden death syndrome in young athletic children is generally caused by a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which causes enlargement of the heart. It can also be caused by a congenital heart defect or a genetic condition known as Marfan Syndrome. Marfan syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that runs in families. Usually children affected with Marfan’s syndrome are very tall with long limbs. They also may have a recessed chest wall.
What information does your doctor need to know about your athletic child to do a thorough cardiac screening exam? Your doctor will want to know any relevant family history including a family history of Marfan syndrome, history of heart disease at an early age, as well as any family members who have died suddenly at a young age. It would be wise to sit down and write down each of your child’s grandparents, aunts, and uncles and what they died of as well as any significant medical problems they had.
In addition to family history, question your child about symptoms he or she may have experienced with exercise. Ask your athletic child if his heart skips a beat when he does strenuous activity, whether he experiences chest pain or discomfort with exercise, as well as whether he experiences lightheadedness during or immediately after physical exertion. These should all be brought to the attention of your child’s doctor and an appropriate workup done to rule out heart problems that could lead to sudden death syndrome.
By alerting your child’s doctor to any relevant family history as well as subtle symptoms your child may be having with exertion, you can ensure your child gets the proper workup for sudden death syndrome that could save his or her life.