Kids Health Matters: Cardiac screenings for young athletes

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The heart is a workhorse, beating 115,000 times in just one day. Young athletes need healthy hearts to power them through the stresses of their sports.

And there's a simple questionnaire parents should know about to ensure that.

Morgan Richardson is never far from a soccer ball.

"I'm 16-years-old and I've been playing soccer all my life," she said.

She has spring training, summer tournaments, even an indoor winter league, and a club team that travels nationwide.

Dr. Brad Robinson, a cardiologist at Nemours duPont Hospital, says before starting their season, any middle or high schooler needs a full physical, including the American Heart Association's 14-point cardiac screening.

"Basically involving seven points for medical history to three points for family history, and three, four points for physical exam," he said.

The goal is to pick up red flags for heart conditions that trigger sudden death - physical symptoms, such as chest pain or discomfort during exertion, unexplained fainting, a heart murmur, or high blood pressure.

As for family history of heart conditions...

"Generally 1st degree relatives - siblings, parents, or grandparents that have a history of coronary artery disease less than 50 years of age," said Dr. Robinson.

The screening can be done by a pediatrician, family doctor, or nurse practitioner. A "yes" to any of the 14 points triggers a referral to a specialist for further testing, including an electrocardiogram.

Some groups advocate all young athletes get EKG's, but Dr. Robinson says the tests can miss some issues.

For any problems that do arise, there are solutions.

"There's a very good outcome to most things that we find, particularly arrhythmias we can treat with medicines, we can ablate the short circuits," said Dr. Robinson.

Morgan's happy she cleared all her screenings - she plans to play competitively through college.

"I love the game, I love the sport, I love the friendships that come along with it," she said.
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