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Sep 19, 2014

Preventing Sudden Cardiac Death in Young Adults

A recent scientific statement weighed the pros and cons of using tests in healthy individuals between 12-25 years old.

In-depth heart tests will do little to prevent sudden cardiac death in young adults, according to a scientific statement recently released by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology.

Although sudden cardiac death is extremely rare in children and young adults, the American Heart Association recommends a 14-point screening for young athletes to identify those at increased risk for heart events. Through a review of personal and family history, as well as a physical examination, this screening helps detect any heart conditions that could increase risk for sudden cardiac death. But experts wonder if we should be doing more to help identify those with increased cardiovascular risk, like by using a common heart test referred to as an ECG.

ECGs or electrocardiograms record electrical signals from the heart to diagnose a variety of heart conditions. In their most recent scientific statement, experts from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology weighed the pros and cons of using such tests in healthy individuals between 12-25 years old to identify those at risk for sudden cardiac death. After reviewing the latest evidence, experts recommended against mass heart screenings in young athletes and non-athletes, alike.

ECGs are commonly used on patients with symptoms of a heart condition or family history of heart disease. As authors explain, ECGs are helpful in diagnosing heart conditions in these higher-risk individuals, but not necessarily in young, healthy populations. Not only are ECGs expensive, especially when applied to the 60 million young, otherwise healthy individuals in the United States, they’re not always accurate and may cause unnecessary concern for certain patients. For these reasons, authors argue against mass screening to identify young adults at increased risk for sudden cardiac death.

Still, the writing committee affirms current screening programs for young athletes, which include physical exams and health questionnaires. Not only can such screenings help identify individuals at increased risk for sudden cardiac death, they can detect other medical conditions that may otherwise go undiagnosed.
Read the full scientific statement in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is sudden cardiac death?

  • Sudden cardiac death can result from sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest must be immediately addressed with CPR and medical attention to improve chances of survival.
  • Who is most at risk for sudden cardiac death?

  • Men are 2-3 times more likely to have sudden cardiac arrest than women. Risk also increases with age, particularly in those with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as an arrhythmia or heart failure. It is important to address any cardiovascular risk factors or conditions to reduce risk for sudden cardiac arrest and death.

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