While the prevailing perception is that heart disease is primarily an adult disease, there are thousands of seemingly healthy youth who suddenly and unexpectedly suffer fatal or severely debilitating consequences due to undetected heart conditions.
Parent Heart Watch advocates for heart screenings in youth for the early detection of risk factors and conditions associated with sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Most heart conditions that can lead to SCA are not detectable with a stethoscope. Many heart conditions can be detected with simple, noninvasive and painless tests, a comprehensive review of personal and family heart history and the proper assessment and follow-up of warning signs and symptoms, if any. As children grow their hearts change and repeat evaluations are often needed.
If a child is diagnosed with a heart condition, there are many precautionary steps that can be taken to prevent the likely outcome of SCA including lifestyle modifications, medication, surgical treatments, and implanting a pacemaker and/or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
Heart Screening Events Information Portal.
Below are some of the most common heart screening tests:
Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)
An ECG is a simple, painless, noninvasive test that measures and records the electrical activity of the heart. With each heartbeat, the heart’s natural pacemaker sends an electrical impulse that travels along a nerve pathway and stimulates the heart muscles to contract, pumping blood through the heart’s chambers and into the blood vessels. When the heart muscles relax, the heart refills with blood and the process starts again. The ECG records this activity on graph paper via wires that are connected to electrode patches with slightly sticky backings and placed on the chest, arms, and legs. The heart’s activity is recorded in up and down patterns labeled consecutively as P waves, QRS complexes, T waves and U waves. Irregularities in the patterns may indicate a problem with the heart.
An ECHO uses high frequency sound waves to display the structure, function and blood flow of the heart on a monitor screen without the use of x-ray. A colorless gel is applied to the skin on the area of the chest where the heart is located. A transducer, a small microphone-like device, is placed on top of the gel and moved across the chest to obtain images that the cardiologist wants to see. A computer transfers the information from the transducer to display an image of the heart on the monitor. The echocardiogram can detect structural abnormalities of the heart and show valve shape, motion, narrowing or leaking.
A Holter Monitor is a portable, battery-operated ECG machine that is worn in a shoulder harness around the neck, in a pocket, or on a belt. A Holter Monitor can help detect problems that may not be observed on a resting ECG. As with an ECG, there are electrodes attached to the chest. The heartbeats are recorded over a 24 to 48 hour period. Patients are usually told to keep a journal of their activities during the day.