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How Common Are Sudden Cardiac Deaths In Young Athletes?

(Wes Leonard (left) and Matthew Hammerdorfer (right) made national headlines last week for their untimely deaths.)

(Wes Leonard (left) and Matthew Hammerdorfer (right) made national headlines last week for their untimely deaths.)

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The death of teenage basketball Star Wes Leonard (see related story) closely followed by the death of 17-year-old rugby player Matthew Hammerdorfer (see related story) raise a very reasonable question, ‘Just how often do tragedies like this strike?’

According to Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, the rate of sudden cardiac deaths in young athletes was similar to that of deaths from lightning. Even though they are rare, they are hard-hitting and have tremendous impact.

The two primary causes of sudden death from heart conditions in which there were no previous symptoms are hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and a genetic condition called long QT syndrome.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a thickening of the heart muscle and can cause cardiac arrest during exertion. The QT syndrome is a problem with electrical regulation of the heart.

These conditions are very difficult to detect. Some say EKGs can be helpful but they are not recommended in the United States because they are costly and can lead to false positive results which would mean unnecessary additional testing.

There are many cardiologists who believe the EKGs should be standard. The European Society of cardiology recommends routine EKGs. One of the best ways to screen is through pointed questions for instance does the child have heart palpitations, a racing heart or passes out.

Sadly the first warning in many of these cases is the sudden cardiac event while participating in a sports related activity.

Reported by Dr. Brian McDonough, KYW Newsradio

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