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Should young athletes be screened for heart problems?

Paoli Hospital August 12, 2014 General Wellness

As the athletic season begins again for student athletes, chances are you’ll hear plenty of information about the importance of recognizing concussions and head injuries. While more awareness around this issue is important, it’s not the only health concern plaguing athletes.

“Most parents assume that their son or daughter has a healthy heart because, for the most part, student athletes live a physically active lifestyle, but even athletes are at risk for heart problems,” explains Donald Ferrari, DO, Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist at Paoli Hospital. “If left untreated, these heart problems can lead to cardiac death.”

Although heart problems affect only a small population of student athletes, many parents are left wondering whether their son or daughter could be a part of that number and relying on a coaching staff or trainer to keep an eye out for signs that something is wrong. In an effort to detect heart problems earlier, some are calling for heart screenings to accompany an athlete’s annual physical.

“For most student athletes, an annual physical is required before a sports season begins, but sometimes these physicals aren’t performed by a doctor, and screenings for heart health are rarely conducted,” says Dr. Ferrari. “Scheduling an EKG with a cardiologist can go a long way in detecting a problem early.”

Although EKGs are not currently recommended for each patient, Dr. Ferrari encourages athletes who have a personal or family history of fainting, seizures, heart problems, or sudden cardiac death to disclose this information to the physician performing their physical. A history of one or more of these symptoms could trigger  a need for further testing, include EKGs.

In addition to scheduling an annual history and physical and review of family history, Dr. Ferrari stresses the importance of recognizing the symptoms of heart problems. Shortness of breath, a racing heart, chest pain, dizziness, and fainting are all warning signs that something isn’t right. Experiencing just one of these symptoms means it’s time to call it quits and make an appointment with your physician or cardiologist.

“Coaches, parents and trainers should all be on the lookout for these red flags, but much of the responsibility in reporting these symptoms lies with the players,” says Dr. Ferrari. “You know your body best. When something doesn’t feel right, don’t brush it off. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be educated about these symptoms.”

Talk to your doctor or cardiologist if you have questions about your heart health. Visit our website to find a Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist in your area.