Keeping Your Student Athlete Alive

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    By: Dawn Juntilla

    I could not help but notice that there have been several recent high school athletes deaths due to cardiac arrest. This news has admittedly instilled a sense of terror in me. In light of these events, the debate about whether to require enhanced physical exams for young athletes has resurfaced.  I am not going to wait for that debate to be settled.  I believe there are some very simple steps I can take to ensure my children are safe to participate in competitive sports.

    Prior to participating in competitive sports, I will definitely have my child undergo a physical exam, whether or not this is a legal or school requirement.  As always, choosing a qualified pediatrician is important.  I also think it is extremely helpful that we see the same pediatrician to help the pediatrician develop a deeper knowledge of my child and her medical history. 

    During this examination, I will also be sure to make my pediatrician aware that my child is a student athlete. I will specifically ask that he thoroughly examine my children with that in mind.  Family history of heart ailments is a significant concern and I plan to make our pediatrician aware of possible genetic transference. At the risk of being “that mom” I will also bring the American Heart Association’s recommendations for a competitive athlete exam.  Click here to see their specific recommendations.

    It may seem over the top, but I also plan to insist on an electrocardiogram (ECG) prior to my child participating in competitive athletics.  An ECG is a simple, non-invasive, pain free test that monitors the electrical activity of the heart.  While an ECG is not guaranteed to uncover all heart problems, it is thought to be an effective test to help identify when the heart is enlarged and thickened (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) or when the heart is enlarged but the walls are thin (dilated cardiomyopathy). These are two of the most common conditions that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes. 

    It appears that a standard ECG is relatively inexpensive.  It would cost about $150-200 if performed in a hospital rather than an urgent care or emergency room.  This is fortunate because it is unlikely that an elective ECG is covered by the majority of insurance plans.  As a mom, I am willing to make this extra investment in my child’s health.

    It is worth noting that there is conflicting research on whether performing an ECG has any impact on the mortality rates of competitive athletes.  Regardless, I would rather err on the side of caution. The consequences are just too dire for me not to take these simple preventative measures to ensure my child’s well-being.

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