THURSDAY, April 5 (HealthDay News) -- Checking the hearts of
teenagers, athletes and non-athletes alike, could save thousands of
lives, a new study suggests.
The heart check recommended is an electrocardiogram (ECG), which
records the electrical activity in the heart and identifies those
at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.
"I think we should do this testing and find the kids who are at risk for sudden death and potentially save their lives," said the study's lead researcher, Dr. Joseph Marek, founder and medical director of the Midwest Heart Foundation in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
ECGs are especially important for teens who are going to take
part in sports, he said.
"To me as a parent, this is a no-brainer," Marek said. "I think doctors should be recommending ECGs to their teen patients."
Not everyone agrees, however. One of the main objections to
doing extensive ECG testing has been cost, but Marek said the tests
in his study cost less than $10 each. For the study, his team
raised money for the testing through community donations.
Marek said that some also feared that testing teens would swamp
the medical system because the rate of abnormal heart rhythms among
young adults was thought to be in the 10 percent to 40 percent
range. But, he said, "our study shows that number is well under 3
percent," so that idea "doesn't hold water."
"ECG testing of young adults is certainly feasible," he said.
Each year in the United States, more than 250,000 people die
from sudden cardiac arrest, including an estimated 2,000 young
adults, according to the study.
But, according to Marek, "sudden cardiac death in young adults
can be identified before they have a catastrophe in a
cost-effective manner by doing ECG testing."
For an ECG test, small patches called electrodes are put on the
skin in several places on the body and attached by wires to a
machine that will print out wavy lines that indicate the heart's
electrical activity, according to the U.S. National Library of
Medicine. The person lies very still for the test, which usually
takes only a few minutes.
Between 2006 and 2010, Marek's research team gave ECGs to 50,665
teens, 14 to 18 years old, including athletes and non-athletes. The
screening was done in 32 schools in suburban Chicago during the
regular school day.
Screening identified 1,096 teens with abnormal ECGs, indicating
a heart irregularity that could result in sudden cardiac death. Of
those teens, 150 were found to have left ventricular hypertrophy,
which can lead to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most common
cause of sudden cardiac death. Another 145 had a condition called
prolonged QTc, which could indicate long QT syndrome, also linked
to sudden cardiac death.
The findings were to be presented Thursday in San Francisco at
the Heart Rhythm Society's annual scientific sessions. Experts note
that research presented at meetings should be considered
preliminary because it has not been subjected to the rigorous
scrutiny given to research published in medical journals.
A similar study done in Italy over a 26-year period found that
ECG screening cut the number of cardiac deaths by 89 percent, Marek
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, the associate chief of cardiology at the
University of California, Los Angeles, medical school said that
"sudden cardiac death in the young can have devastating impact on
families, care providers and the community."
Though some of the abnormalities that cause these deaths can be
detected by screening ECGs, Fonarow said, "the routine use of
screening ECGs in the young is controversial."
"Further studies of ECG screening are needed to evaluate the resource requirements, reliability, reproducibility, effectiveness of preventing sudden cardiac arrest and potential harmful effects of screening," he said.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on
sudden cardiac arrest.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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