Congenital heart disease is the No. 1 cause of sudden death in young people.
While coronary artery disease is the primary cause of sudden cardiac death in athletes over 35, younger people are more likely to fall victim to congenital heart disease – such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, is an inherited condition that affects one in 500 people. Abnormalities in the myocardium increase the risk of malignant ventricular arrhythmias, and thickening of the intraventricular septum can create a left ventricular outflow tract obstruction leading to symptoms such as syncope, shortness of breath or chest pain.
Although death is relatively uncommon, 90 percent of deaths do occur during exercise or immediately afterward. Identification of HCM earlier can affect recommendations for sports participation. High-risk individuals may be prescribed medication or may be candidates for defibrillator placement.
Other causes of sudden cardiac death include coronary artery anomalies, commotio cordis, Marfan syndrome, and rhythm abnormalities such as long QT syndrome.
What is Play Smart?
Play Smart is a free screening program sponsored by Providence Heart Institute. Its goal is to reduce the number of sudden cardiac deaths among young athletes through community education and free heart screenings.
Screenings involve a questionnaire, a blood pressure measurement and an electrocardiogram. Individuals with abnormal results may undergo a brief screening echocardiogram. If an abnormality is discovered, the patient is referred to his or her physician for further evaluation. The program is designed to screen for inherited and acquired forms of heart disease.
Athlete screening with an electrocardiogram is currently mandated in multiple countries, and it is endorsed by the International Olympic Committee and the European Society of Cardiology. The American Heart Association supports screening with a questionnaire, and also acknowledges the logistical and financial challenges of mass screening programs in the United States.
We believe in screening young people for heart disease. Our cardiologists donate their time to support Play Smart, and donations make it possible for us to offer this free service to our community.
- Baggish et al; Cardiovascular screening in college athletes with and without electrocardiography. Annals of Internal Medicine 2010; 152: 269-275
- Corrado et al; Trends in sudden cardiovascular death in young competitive athletes after implementation of a preparticipation screening program. Journal of the American Medical Association 2006; 296: 1593-1601.
- Drezner et al; Is there evidence for recommending electrocardiogram as part of the pre-participation examination? Clin J Sport Med 2011; 21: 18-24
- Harmon et al; Incidence of sudden cardiac arrest in National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes. Circulation 2011; 123: 1594-1600
- Maron et al; Sudden deaths in young competitive athletes. Analysis of 1866 deaths in the United States, 1980-2006. Circulation 2009; 119: 1085-1092
- Vetter et al; A pilot study of the feasibility of heart screening for sudden cardiac arrest in healthy children. American Heart Journal 2011; 10: 1-7.e3
- Wilson et al; Efficacy of personal symptom and family history questionnaires when screening for inherited cardiac pathologies: the role of electrocardiography. British J. Sports Medicine 2008; 42: 207-210
We are the largest provider of cardiac services throughout Oregon. More than 80 highly skilled cardiologists and surgeons care for more than 15,000 patients each year, integrating patient education and prevention with advanced diagnostics and treatment.
Free Youth Heart Screenings
Make a donation » Our pledge is to offer Play Smart™ Screenings at no charge. You can help with a tax-deductible donation.
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