Beaumont ‘Healthy Heart Check' Helps Area Students

2/26/2008

Despite cold temperatures and snow, high school athletes have their sights set on spring sports. And before student athletes hit the track or playing field, they are required to have a physical exam. Unfortunately, most routine sports physicals don't screen for pre-existing heart conditions and abnormalities. In 2007, Beaumont cardiologists developed a program to screen for such problems and combat sudden cardiac arrest in high school students.

Since the inception of Beaumont's "Healthy Heart Check" 1,747 high school students in Southeastern Michigan have been screened. 

"We are looking for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a really strong risk factor for sudden death in student athletes," says Kim Bonzheim, director of Noninvasive Cardiology at Beaumont.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a serious heart condition that's the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. This condition affects approximately one in 500 people and usually does not have any physical symptoms.

"By doing the screening test, the electrocardiogram, a physical exam and a list of 12 simple questions, we can identify a subgroup of children who may be at risk for this condition," says David Haines, M.D., director of Cardiovascular Disease at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

The screening process includes a review of health history, a blood pressure check and an electrocardiogram, or ECG. A cardiologist evaluates each student by listening to his heart and if the doctor determines that further testing is necessary the student has an echocardiogram, a noninvasive picture of the heart. Results of the screening are mailed to each student within one week of the screening event.

An Italian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that mandatory heart screening of all high school athletes in one area of the country reduced the risk of sudden death by up to 89 percent.

Adds Bonzheim, "If we can identify even one of these kids, that's definitely worth the effort."

A total of 1,747 students have been screened after four "Healthy Heart Check" programs. Of that group, 222 students were allowed to play sports but only after follow-up with their doctor. Seven students were told to stop any participation in sports until they had clearance from a cardiologist. One student was confirmed to have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.