As far as a general heart screening, we always encourage every patient to have regular checkups with their primary care physician, whether that be with one of our local Cook Children’s pediatricians or other general practitioners in the community.
At Cook Children’s and in the Cardiology department we offer what’s called a sports EKG or an electrocardiographic screening test. This is a non-invasive test, so there’s no pain involved. It’s a $20 to $25 test where you come in and have some stickers placed on your chest and we measure the electricity in the heart. That test will look at the signals in your child’s heart and is a very good way of looking at potential heart problems that some people may have that they don’t know about.
Unfortunately, we all see in the newspaper when children pass away, specifically when children pass away playing athletics such as football and other things. While this is not very common occurrence, it is a young child’s life that we do lose. The most common cause for that is a medical condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. That’s a fancy way of saying your heart muscle has actually become too thick. We know this occurs in about 1 in 500 people. Although 1 in 500 people aren’t symptomatic. The problem is we can’t really pick the ones out that are going to become symptomatic very easily. It typically tends to be a silent disorder. So you are walking around having it, you play very competitively in athletics and then these individuals can have a cardiac arrest or sudden death on the playing field.
Most individuals who have cardiac arrest or sudden death playing sports are totally asymptomatic. The reason is that your heart muscle is thick and actually functions normally. The problem is these individuals develop abnormal heart rhythms and it’s these very fast and abnormal heart rhythms that lead to the sudden death that the athletes can experience. We definitely know that having hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and playing sports puts you at a much higher risk than if you don’t play sports and it is the number one cause of sudden death and cardiac arrest in the pediatric athletic population.
As far as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is concerned it is a genetic problem which means you were born with it. Some individuals don’t show any signs of it until they reach puberty. Puberty is starting earlier in the population. Girls around age 10, boys around age 12 start to show signs of puberty now. That’s when often times, when hormones get mixed in to a heart problem, they have the biggest problems with the abnormal heart beats. Around age 12 to 15, junior high to early high school, is a good time to consider the screening test if it’s something that you feel is appropriate or something you would like to have done for your child.
If parents want to have an EKG screening test they can contact any of the Cook Children’s cardiology offices and ask the receptionist about scheduling a sports EKG. We have offices in Southlake, Mansfield, Arlington and various other places to make it convenient for the family. We can get that scheduled and all you have to do is show up and the tests takes about 5 to 10 minutes to do, then we will interpret those results and determine if there is any concern or need for follow-up.
For more information, please call the Heart Center office at Cook Children’s at 682-885-2140.
Matthew Dzurik, M.D., is a pediatric cardiologist at Cook Children’s, who deals with abnormal heart rhythms specifically. Dr. Dzurik has been in Fort Worth and Cook Children’s for six years.