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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Young Athletes at Risk for... Heart Attacks?!

15 Iyar

If you're a parent or older teen, you might know the drill: Coach gets his athletes out there, running them hard in the hot sun. The guys feel like they're dying of thirst. They ache all over and some team members have headaches the size of Texas. Everybody wants to rest. The shrill whistle screams "No Time Out." Then one of the players collapses on the field. Ambulances arrive as a lot of lip-biting goes on around the unconscious victim.

Wanna reverse that scenario and prevent unnecessary heartache? You can.

Be aware the some African-American players are at special risk of death from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy - oversized, too-thick heart muscle. It can kill. The victim experiences a sudden cardiac arrest or a potentially fatal heart arrythmia after intense physical activity. Their heart is not beating correctly and the body suffers severely.

The problem was hiding in plain view all along. One very wrong combination of exertion, genetic disadvantage and bad timing is all it takes to reveal the facts.

"Many cases go undiagnosed because the young athletes' healthy appearance and peak physical condition may mask their underlying sickness. Experts estimate that one in 500 Americans has undiagnosed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. But African-Americans are more vulnerable, with two to three times the rate of sudden cardiac death than in whites," says Johns Hopkins cardiologist Theodore Abraham, M.D.

Get your adolescent athlete, of any skin color, into a cardiologist's office for a full workup and screening, and especially if that teen player is black-skinned.


1. Cardiac Ultrasound or Echocardiogram - to measure heart size and pumping function, including blood volume, and to check for faulty valves

2. Electrocardiogram, or EKG, to assess the heart's electrical rhythms

How important is this, really? In 2004, the International Olympic Committee recommended that all athletes be EKG-tested every two years for potential heart abnormalities.

I wish you a safe, healthy summer of fun activity.


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