Can sudden death in young people be prevented?

Sometimes. If you're at high risk of sudden cardiac death, your doctor will usually suggest that you avoid competitive sports. Depending on your underlying condition, medical or surgical treatments might be appropriate to reduce your risk of sudden death.

Another option for some, such as those with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, is an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). This pager-sized device implanted in your chest like a pacemaker continuously monitors your heartbeat. If a life-threatening arrhythmia occurs, the ICD delivers electrical shocks to restore a normal heart rhythm.

Who should be screened for sudden death risk factors?

There's debate in the medical community about screening young athletes to attempt to identify those at high risk of sudden death.

Some countries such as Italy screen young people with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which records the electrical signals in the heart. However, this type of screening is expensive and can produce false-positive results — indications that an abnormality or disease is present when it isn't — which can cause unnecessary worry and additional tests.

It's not clear that routine exams given before athletes are cleared to play competitive sports can prevent sudden cardiac death. However, they might help identify some who are at increased risk.

For anyone with a family history or risk factors for conditions that cause sudden cardiac death, further screening is recommended. Repeat screening of family members is recommended over time, even if the first heart evaluation was normal.

Should young people with a heart defect avoid physical activity?

If you're at risk of sudden cardiac death, talk to your doctor about physical activity. Whether you can participate in exercise or sports depends on your condition.

For some disorders, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, it's often recommended that you avoid most competitive sports and that if you have an ICD, you should avoid impact sports. But this doesn't mean you need to avoid exercise. Talk to your doctor about restrictions on your activity.

March 04, 2017