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Test Evaluates Heart Health For Young People

March 19, 2010, 6:11 PM by Courtney Zieller

Test Evaluates Heart Health For Young People
We've been hearing all too often about the young high school athletes who've died unexpectedly on the football field or the playing court.  But doctors say a simple heart screening may have helped keep them alive.

The Athletic Heart Screen is a test evaluating the heart health of athletes or non-athletes between the ages of 12 to 24.

Thirteen-year-old Rachel Hickman is very involved in sports.

"I cheer like 24/7, then fit in volleyball somewhere in there, then squeeze school in there," Rachel said.

About five years ago, one of her young athletic relatives had heart problems.

"We also have a family history of a teenager that had some thickening of the heart muscle," mom Deb Hickman said. "You always hear of the kids who are quite healthy and suddenly die of heart related problems during athletics."

Rachel's mom decided her daughter should get an athletic heart screening. The procedure is simple and only takes about 30 minutes.

"I didn't really feel anything. The only thing I felt was the cold gel on my side," Rachel said.

The goal of the test is to find heart abnormalities that are sometimes silent but can be life threatening.

"We focus on the primary things that can cause cardiac death in the young," Sanford Medical Center Dr. William Waltz said.

And in athletes, that's especially important because your heart is working its hardest when you exercise.

"Your heart can actually be working about 10 times it would be at rest," Waltz said.

And since the testing started, doctors have found three percent of the patients tested do have some kind of heart problem.

"The goal is to pick up as many kids as we can that would have a significant cardiac issue that would put them at risk for sudden death," Waltz said.

While Rachel's results aren't complete yet, they're sure to offer mom and daughter some peace of mind.

"I'm very glad I'll be safe when I'm out working out and training for all my activities," Rachel said.

The results of the heart screen usually take about three to four weeks. Doctors say if someone is having symptoms of heart problems, they are not candidates for the testing and should see their doctor.

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