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Warning Signs and Risk Factors of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Did you know that one child suffers cardiac arrest (SCA) nearly every hour each year? It’s not surprising considering that studies show 1 in 300 youth has an undetected heart condition that puts them at risk. Even so, cardiac risk assessments and heart screenings are not a standard part of well-child checkups or pre-participation physical examinations.

While the first symptom of SCA may be death, an American Board of Family Medicine study noted that 72% of youth who had a sudden cardiac arrest were reported by their parents to have had at least one cardiovascular symptom before the event—they just didn’t recognize it as life threatening. Parents are their children’s best advocates so it’s important to educate yourself and other adults who engage with your children about potential warning signs and symptoms:

• fainting (the #1 indicator of a potential heart condition)
• chest pain or discomfort
• racing heart, palpitations or irregular heartbeat
• shortness of breath
• dizziness or lightheadedness
• unusual, extreme fatigue

Likewise, family risk factors are an important consideration in your child’s health history as many heart conditions are hereditary.

• family history of heart disease
• family history of unexpected death during physical activity or seizure
• unexplained death of a seemingly health family member under age 50
• unexplained near/drowning or car accident of a family member

While some doctor’s offices, schools and sports teams require parents to complete a medical history form, a cardiac risk assessment is often not part of that process. And if it is, parents typically complete the form without even consulting their child. Parents assume that if their child hasn’t mentioned any issues, they’re fine. But if a child has lived with symptoms all their life, they may not recognize it as unusual. Sometimes they recognize something is wrong but don’t want to admit it. They may be embarrassed they can’t keep up, or they don’t want to jeopardize their playing time.

What can parents do to protect their child’s heart?
1. Know and report your family heart history to your doctor
2. Don’t just check the box – check in with your child about warning signs
3. Seek feedback from coaches, counselors or caregivers about any symptoms
4. Complete a cardiac risk assessment together
5. Discuss the cardiac risk assessment at each doctor’s appointment
6. If warning signs and risk factors are present, consult a doctor immediately
7. Ask your doctor about getting an EKG heart screening for your child
8. EKG should be interpreted by a medical provider proficient in interpretation of EKGs in youth
9. Visit Parent Heart Watch for a list of free or low-cost screenings in your area
10. Request free posters, flyers and videos from Parent Heart Watch for your community
11. Take the Prevention Promise and use our Take 5 to Stay Alive toolkit

Warning Signs and Risk Factors of Sudden Cardiac Arrest
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