By Amanda Fischer
Unexpected loss of heart function isn’t typically a health concern that is top of mind when discussing young people.
While sudden cardiac death among those under the age of 18 remains a rare occurrence, it has become a growing issue. Claiming the lives of more than 300 children and teens in Michigan annually, sudden cardiac death in young people is most common among athletes but can affect anyone.
The cause of sudden cardiac death in young people varies from case to case, but the American Heart Association stated the most common cause is heart abnormalities. Some common causes of sudden cardiac death in young people include:
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – a disease that causes the heart muscles to thicken, making it harder for blood to pump
- Coronary artery abnormalities – malformation of the coronary vessels
- Long QT syndrome – a heart rhythm condition that causes the heart to abnormally fast
There are little to no signs leading up to sudden cardiac death of a young person because heart defects and abnormalities that cause sudden cardiac arrest in a young individual generally go unnoticed or lack symptoms. Individuals who experience unexplained fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain or have a family history of sudden cardiac arrest could be at risk for sudden cardiac death.
Parents and guardians can lower the risk of sudden cardiac death in young people with the following actions:
- Schedule regular checkups and sports physicals for your child
- Know your family history
- Encourage schools and community facilities to invest in automated external defibrillators
- Become CPR/AED-certified
Many schools in Michigan take extra precautions to keep students safe, and state organizations are taking notice.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Education, American Heart Association, Michigan High School Athletic Association and Michigan Alliance for Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death of the Young recently recognized 154 schools for earning the MI HEARTSafe Schools designation for the 2018-19 school year.
“We are proud to support Michigan’s HEARTSafe Schools,” said State Superintendent Michael Rice. “Ensuring schools are prepared for sudden cardiac emergencies through planning, training and lifesaving AEDs is an important part of having safer learning environments for students, staff and the community.”
To receive a MI HEARTSafe Schools designation, schools must have:
- A written medical emergency response plan and team
- Current CPR/AED certification of at least 10% of staff and 50% of coaches, including 100% of head varsity coaches and physical education staff
- Accessible, properly maintained and inspected AEDs with signs identifying locations
- Annual cardiac emergency response drills
- Pre-participation sports screening of all student athletes using the current physical and history form endorsed by the Michigan High School Athletic Association
For more information on the MI HEARTSafe Schools program or sudden cardiac deaths in children and teens, visit migrc.org.