Annual exams can detect rare, hidden heart problems

DALLAS (MCT) — It has been nine years since Brian Price played two hard-driving basketball games for Cistercian Preparatory School in Irving, Texas, went to a movie, slumped in his seat and died.

No one knew he had long Q-T syndrome, a form of arrhythmia that could have been treated with medication effective in 90 percent of affected people.

He was 15 years old.

Deaths of young, seemingly healthy athletes such as Brian are all the more tragic for being so unexpected, said Dr. William Scott, chief of cardiology at Children’s Medical Center Dallas and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Scott is familiar with silent heart killers such as arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeats) and structural heart and artery defects. He has helped many patients who had warning signs, but he also has comforted grieving parents whose child’s first symptom turned out to be the last.

In those cases, he tried to counsel surviving family members to get tested because these conditions usually are hereditary.

“We try to make sure it is not a double tragedy by making sure that no one else is at risk,” he said.

While parents and teens need to be aware of potential hidden heart problems, they also should remember that these conditions are rare, affecting as few as 1 in 500 to 10,000 people, he said.

The incidence of sudden death in student athletes is 1 in 100,000 to 200,000, Scott said. That’s why he advises parents and kids to get an annual physical with their primary-care physician and be attentive to warning signs that warrant further tests.

Individuals who have any of the warning signs should refrain from strenuous physical activity and get a checkup to see whether further testing is needed, Scott said. Most heart defects can be identified with an electrocardiogram, or EKG, which records the electrical activity of the heart over time, or an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart.

However, the tests are not foolproof, he said. Some who test positive will turn out not to have heart conditions, while some people who do have them may not be identified by these tests.

Another consideration is cost. If there’s a clinical indication there may be a problem, many insurance companies will cover the cost of the screenings. If you do it on your own, expect to pay $150 to $250 for an electrocardiogram or more than $1,000 for an echocardiogram.

Warning Signs:

n Becoming dizzy or passing out during exercise or right after exercise

n Chest pain during or after exercise

n Feeling fatigued very quickly or more easily than peers

n Feeling your heart racing inappropriately or skipping a beat

n Heart murmur

n High blood pressure or high cholesterol

n Family history (a relative who died suddenly before age 50 or a relative with cardiomyopathy)

What to do if someone collapses:

Sudden cardiac arrest strikes more than 200,000 Americans each year. The Red Cross estimates that up to 50,000 of those deaths could be prevented using the Cardiac Chain of Survival:

n Early access to care (calling 911 or another emergency number)

n Early cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

n Early defibrillation

n Early advanced cardiac life support

n For information about Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes, see or call 1-800-786-7723.