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Heart Disease Health Center

Shocking Heart Deaths: Why They Happen

Sudden cardiac arrest isn't the same as a heart attack.
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What to Do

Make sure your teen athlete gets the recommended AHA screening.

"You have to step up and insist on certain things at times," Mosesso says. "It's important for parents to tell the doctor that they actually want them to do the screening. A lot of times, my sense is that people just want someone to sign off on a form and just assume the kid's fine."

It might be a good idea to bring a copy of the AHA screening process to the visit.

Pay serious attention to any symptoms.

Heart problems that lead to cardiac arrest can produce signs, such as chest pain and blackouts (especially with exertion), fainting, palpitations or fluttering of the heart, becoming easily fatigued, weakness, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

Sports will increase stress on a vulnerable heart, so such symptoms tend to occur during or right after exercise.

Never ignore symptoms. Lawless recalls one high school athlete who went to the school nurse 16 times to complain of chest pain, but no one took his concerns seriously. "He then died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy during sports," she says.

Don't forget: Young athletes don't always volunteer information when they feel unwell. "They're warriors. They want to stay in the game and show that they're 100% fit and that they can do the job," Lawless says.

But parents need to ask. "Be gentle with them and if something doesn't seem right to you -- if they get winded easily or they're clutching their chest -- make sure you have a conversation with them," Lawless says.

Even after a diagnosis, some athletes insist on playing. Lawless encountered one high school basketball player diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy after blacking out a couple of times on the court. Still, he wanted to play in college. "It takes a lot to convince people that when they have these conditions, they can't be playing these very high-intensity sports," Lawless says.

The same goes for adults. Any possible signs of heart trouble should not be ignored. Although symptoms with exertion in adults are unlikely to be due to these rare heart conditions, they may be due to coronary artery disease and should still be reported to your doctor so they can be evaluated.

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