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Teen Heart Screenings

OPB | Jan. 24, 2012 9:06 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 11:07 p.m.

The news came a little too often over the last year — a young athlete dies suddenly of cardiac failure. In January, 14-year-old Cody Sherrell collapsed after his school basketball team’s first practice of the year at La Center Middle School. He later died. A month earlier a similar tragedy struck at Oregon State University. Fred Thompson, a 19-year-old on the football team, died of a heart attack sudden cardiac arrest. These are just two of many similar stories: young athletes dying of sudden cardiac death.

According to information provided by the Quinn Driscoll Foundation, which was created to honor the death of the eponymous young athlete in 2009:

  • Annually in the United States thousands of children, teens and young adults, suffer sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)
  • SCA is two to three times more likely to occur in young athletes than their less active peers
  • It is estimated that over 7,000 young people under the age of 18 die from an undetected heart condition each year

To help relieve worried parents and students, some hospitals are now running teen heart screenings. At Peacehealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver they run weekly screenings at a cost of $50 and biannual screenings that are free (and sponsored by the Quinn Driscoll Foundation). Their next free clinic, scheduled for February 25th, filled up far in advance. At these screenings cardiologists review health history, check blood pressure, and perform EKGs and echocardiograms.

But there is great debate about how much screening is appropriate. According to the American Heart Association, screening could be helpful but a thorough family history and general physical should be enough. And the AHA pointed to potential problems from across-the-board tests:

such screening could also be potentially deleterious to many athletes by virtue of false-positive test results that would lead to unnecessary further evaluations and testing, anxiety, and possibly to disqualification without merit.

Are you a student athlete, or the parent of one? Would you consider being screened for heart problems? What would you do with that information?

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