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Pediatricians recommend all children to be screened for heart problems

An estimated 7,000 children suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year, according to the American Heart Association.
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 4:31 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a new recommendation this summer dealing with children’s health. Now all children, from ages six to 21, should be screened for conditions that could lead to cardiac arrest or death every three years.

The findings were announced during a time when everything was so focused on COVID-19, many may have looked elsewhere, Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Brian Holland with Norton Children’s Heart Institute said.

”It’s really based on a bunch of information that we have been getting better and better at in the past 10 years,” Holland said.

An estimated 7,000 children suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year, according to the American Heart Association.

Previously, the heart analysis focus was on sports physicals for teenagers, Holland said. Now, there is a focus on screening children for heart problems before middle school and before high school, even if they aren’t in sports.

“About once every three years, every child should get this discussion,” Holland said. “Where there is a screening at their pediatrician and they are talking about risks that might lead that might lead them to a sudden cardiac event.”

Doctors found that the previous focus, which was exercise, was not the only risk factor.

”Now we’ve been discovering that people can have a child who might die suddenly, and not be related to exercise, that might have had a genetic condition, that if we had known about we might have been able to prevent,” Dr. Holland said.

Through genetic autopsies, they found that 22% to 30% of children who died suddenly had a gene that put them at risk.

That gene, Holland said, could have been prevented or treated.

”When they have looked at big groups of kids, there were some who were previously not known to have any kind of genetic heart problem until they had, tragically, a sudden event,” Holland said. “And so that is the reason we are going to be asking so many questions all the time at their physicals in order to try to find them sooner.”

Holland said the additional screening questions will not be of any extra cost to parents. He said they should be added to list of questions during your child’s regular annual school physical with their pediatrician.

“They are going to be the experts at this,” Holland said. “You are going to get questions being asked at just a regular school physical, a regular annual physical that might not be related to a sports clearance at all, even if the child is not doing sports. They should now be starting to have questions asked about these heart history, heart risk factors, and heart symptoms in a way that used to be only when you came in for your sports physical.”

Some signs in your child you should pay attention to include chest pain, lightheadedness, dizziness, and fainting, Holland said.

If you think your child may be at risk based on your genetic history, it does not mean they can never play sports again, Holland said. They will likely be recommended to a specialist, for further testing or treatment before a decision is made.

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