A rare but tragic occurrence in young people, sudden cardiac death kills around 120 athletes under the age of 35 each year in the United States. Frequently caused by genetic conditions, such as structural heart defects, sudden cardiac death often occurs during physical activity.
Tackling this serious health risk, Saint Louis University Medical Center is hosting an educational program for health care professionals and high school coaches and administrators on April 23 to learn about screening and potential treatment for sudden cardiac death. The program is designed to help reduce the likelihood of sudden cardiac death for individual patients and within athletic programs.
In screening athletes, doctors look for warning signs in a patients' personal history, including chest pain upon exertion, unexplained fainting, excessive fatigue associated with exercise, heart murmur and high blood pressure.
Because of the strong genetic link, doctors also are on the lookout for a family history that includes relatives who died of heart disease before the age of 50, close relatives under age 50 with disability from heart disease and specific knowledge of certain cardiac conditions in family members.
"I recommend a physical examination and a complete medical history, including family history, as the first step in screening," said Will Mitchell, M.D., sports medicine specialist in the department of family medicine and assistant team physician for the SLU Billikens. "I may recommend further examination based on the results of those initial steps."
Beyond screening, having an emergency action plan and a qualified individual who is able to use an AED (automated external defibrillator), a device that administers electric shocks to the heart, is important preparation for an athletic program.
"The first step is to provide an accurate medical history to your health care provider," said Kitty Newsham, Ph.D., assistant professor of athletic training education at Saint Louis University. "The second part of the equation is to ensure that a qualified health care provider is available at every athletic event, including practices. Having a certified athletic trainer who is trained in emergency care, including using AED, can save lives."
SLU is at the forefront of education on medical issues that affect the health of athletes. For more information about "An Inter-Disciplinary Approach to Sudden Cardiac Death in Young Athletes," sponsored by Saint Louis University, SLUCare, Saint Louis University Hospital, and the Physician Assistant Foundation, on April 23, call 314-977-8561.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.