Irregular Heartbeat from Video Games ‘Extremely Rare’: Study

2 min read

Aug. 9, 2023 – Even young people at high risk of irregular heartbeats can safely play video games if they’re properly diagnosed and treated, a new study suggests.

An earlier study suggested that e-gaming could cause potentially deadly irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) in some children, sparking controversy among doctors.

The new study, published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, aimed to see just how often such arrhythmias occurred and who was most at risk.

“In the largest study to date, we show that these arrhythmias are extremely rare,” even among young people with genetic conditions such as long QT syndrome, said Michael Ackerman, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, who led the study.

The investigators analyzed data from 2000 to 2022 on more than 3,300 young people with a genetic heart condition who were treated at the Mayo Clinic.

Only six (0.5%) had an arrhythmia while video gaming. Five of the six were male, and the average age was 13. They were all treated, and none had an arrhythmia during the study's follow-up period, which varied from 7  months to 4 years.

“The risk of sudden death should not be used as an argument … to curtail the amount of time spent e-gaming, if people are properly diagnosed and treated,” Ackerman said.

But arrhythmia triggers such as dehydration, lack of sleep, and performance-enhancing substances like energy drinks can increase the risk of potential adverse events, he said. These triggers should be avoided, especially while playing video games. 

It’s also important to take medication as prescribed, he noted. 

Maully Shah, MD, of the Cardiac Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and her colleagues reported a couple of years ago on two cases of fainting (syncope) and potentially life-threatening arrhythmias provoked by emotional surges while playing violent video games.

But, she said, “We do not restrict patients from participating in [video games]. We inform them about the available data regarding this very rare but possible occurrence so they can make informed decisions.”

Shah suggested choosing a “buddy” to play with as an additional preventive measure.

“Don’t play alone,” she advised.