You’ve seen the shocking news stories of young athletes collapsing and dying of sudden cardiac arrest: the 14-year-old Wisconsin runner, the Michigan high-school basketball whiz who’d just sunk the winning shot, the star quarterback at a Texas high school. These no-warning cardiac collapses are the single largest cause of death among young competitive athletes.
The real story is, it doesn’t have to be.
A string of positive research combined with news of kids who’ve survived sudden cardiac arrest means this troubling killer could soon be tamed. Meanwhile, we hope you parents and grandparents out there saw reports about the swift steps that can restart struggling young hearts — like the Minnesota dad who ran onto the soccer field when his 12-year-old son collapsed, started CPR, then used a portable defibrillator to kick-start the heart into beating normally again. He saved his son’s life.
It’s not just an issue for kids who play sports. Actually, the cause has nothing to do with sports, per se. While sudden cardiac arrest is five times more common among college athletes than once believed, and just one in 10 survives, what’s most often behind SCA is an enlarged heart — specifically, a common inherited defect called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. While months of strenuous exercise will make any athlete’s heart muscle bigger, that’s normal and nothing to worry about — unless the kid also has HCM. The combo can block blood flow from the heart, which puts young athletes at much higher risk than nonathletes with HCM. Add a hard workout or dehydration, and the danger’s even greater.
It’s summer, so be alert for dehydration and heat exhaustion. Working out in hot weather — running a 5K, practicing football, going to sports camp — can use up a young body’s water supply fast and lead to heat stroke and a collapse that looks like SCA. Tell kids to follow the coach’s advice and drink plenty of water. Dehydration is risky for anyone with an enlarged heart, because it interferes with the ticker’s main pumping area, the left ventricle.
Getting parched makes blood-flow problems worse, leading to fainting, shortness of breath or something way more serious.
What can you do to help? For starters, hold a bake sale (though we’d prefer a fruit sale!).
More importantly, look for risk factors in your kids, and know what to do:
The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, are authors of “YOU: On a Diet.” Want more? See “The Dr. Oz Show” on TV. To submit questions, go to www.RealAge.com.