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New Law Tackles Sports Risk

Posted 7/21/2017 by UHBlog

Worried your young shortstop or gymnast may have risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest? Discuss your concerns with one of our pediatric cardiologists.

New Law Tackles Sports Risk

Participating in organized sports is a heart-smart choice for most kids. But, rarely, some student-athletes could be at risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and not even know it.

SCA occurs when the heart stops beating without warning, cutting off blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. It can be fatal if not treated immediately, preferably with an automated external defibrillator (AED). SCA in children is rare, typically resulting in zero to three deaths in Ohio annually.

Lindsay’s Law, recently passed by the Ohio legislature, aims to educate coaches, trainers and parents about SCA and reduce the incidence of death. The legislation is named after former Miss Ohio Lindsay Davis, who has a heart condition that could lead to SCA. It covers youth leagues as well as middle school and high school athletics.

The bill:

  • Outlines signs, symptoms and risk factors of sudden cardiac arrest
  • Provides a protocol for assessing SCA
  • Mandates written clearance for athletes to return to practice and competition after fainting or experiencing other specific difficulties while participating in sports
  • Defines which health care providers can evaluate SCA risk and make medical clearance decisions
  • Requires coaches and trainers to take online SCA training annually

Ensuring coaches and trainers can recognize and react to cardiac issues is the most critical part of the bill, says pediatric cardiologist Christopher Snyder, MD.

“The first four minutes (following cardiac arrest) are the most important,” Dr. Snyder says. “I’ve known families who watched their child collapse on the (baseball) diamond and nobody knew what to do, so people just stood over the child until EMS showed up. That’s usually many minutes later and too late. We need trainers and coaches who know what to do to start that chain of resuscitation.”

According to Dr. Snyder, parents and team leaders should look out for these potential signs of impending SCA:

  1. Collapsing or passing out while actively participating in sports.
    “We see kids who pass out after playing basketball – or who are lightheaded and dizzy and then pass out,” he says. “That can be dangerous, but it’s not as dangerous as passing out while running or chasing a ball.”
  2. Severe chest pains. This is rare.
    “Coaches used to say, ‘Go back out and play,’” Dr. Snyder says. “Now we need coaches to recognize that is not okay. The child needs to be checked out.”
  3. Severe shortness of breath.
  4. Family history, especially if there’s a strong incidence of inherited cardiac disorders, such as hypertrophic myopathy or arrhythmia syndromes.
    “That’s why we stress the importance of sports pre-participation screenings,” Dr. Snyder says. “They tell us the vast majority of family history in one way, shape or form.”
  5. Heart palpitations, or a racing heart.

Although SCA is uncommon, Dr. Snyder urges parents to be proactive if they suspect their child is at risk. If a youngster passes out or complains of shortness of breath while participating in sports – or even while riding a bike or horsing around with family and friends – seek medical help. It’s also important to see a doctor if your child is less energetic and active than usual. Parents can start with their pediatrician, who, depending on the situation, may refer the child to a pediatric cardiologist or other specialist.

“There’s no way to prevent every sudden cardiac death, but we firmly believe this law will help,” Dr. Snyder says. “Often children have no risk factors and no family history. But if we can prevent one child from dying, that means we should comply with this law wholeheartedly.”

Christopher Snyder, MD, is the Division Chief and a pediatric electrophysiologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Snyder or any other doctor online.

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