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Many people have heard stories about healthy young people who suddenly collapse and die while playing sports, but Canadian researchers say that's the exception, not the norm in cases of sudden cardiac arrest, and the real culprit in many cases is undiagnosed heart disease.
"Put it this way: If you have a 13-year-old kid who is not the star athlete who dies at home watching TV, it doesn't make the news," Dr. Andrew Krahn of the University of British Columbia said in a press release. "But if the same kid is a high school quarterback or hockey star, then it's covered."
Rather than activity, the biggest connection between the cases is an undiagnosed heart condition. Heart disease was present in 126 of those cases (72%). Of those, 78% were undiagnosed.
"This research gives us an idea of the scope of the problem — there are almost 200 young people who die suddenly every year in Ontario. A good proportion of them have unrecognized heart disease. So the question is: How can we catch this before it happens?"
Krahn said doctors, teachers and coaches need to pay more attention to warning signs, like a tendency to faint.
"I would advocate for careful screening of people who faint, using questionnaires and education of health-care professionals so that when warning signs present themselves, they recognize them and this information gets passed on to the right people," he said.
Dr. Beth Abramson, a Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher, said more people should train in CPR. As well, she said public places should have automatic external defibrillators on hand.
"Our goal is to make AEDs as available as fire extinguishers in public places from Yellowknife to St. John's," Abramson said. "The odds of surviving a cardiac arrest can increase to up to 75% when early CPR is used in combination with an AED in the first few minutes."
In the UBC study, most victims of sudden cardiac arrest were male (76%) between the ages of 18 and 40 (90%).
Krahn presented his findings Monday to the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.
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