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Reducing Risk in Sports: Keep Your Athlete’s Heart Healthy

USA TODAY High School Sports and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have partnered on a monthly column to address injuries, prevention and related issues to help schools, coaches and student-athletes. Here is the latest column from Scott Sailor, the president of NATA.

Scott Sailor, president of National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).

Scott Sailor, president of National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).

Since February is American Heart Month, now is a good time to learn what you can do as a parent to help keep your athlete’s heart healthy. Before sports participation even begins, all athletes should have a pre-participation exam by their primary care physician to determine readiness to play and uncover any conditions that may limit participation. This is especially important because any underlying medical conditions can be exacerbated by vigorous, physical activity.

One of the most important parts of the pre-participation exam is the cardiovascular screening. At a minimum, this should include a comprehensive medical history, family history and physical exam. Here’s what you should know:

  • Your physician will ask specific questions about your child’s risk factors and symptoms of a heart disease. If your child has any pre-existing conditions, it’s important to share them with the doctor for review and to determine activities that are appropriate.
  • Athletes with an identified cardiac disorder, unexplained symptoms or prior sudden cardiac event should be cleared by a cardiologist before participation.
  • To check for a heart murmur, the physician will listen to the athlete’s heart, often with your child in three different positions: standing, lying down face up and during squat-to-stand motions.
  • Electrocardiograms aren’t considered a routine part of a pre-participation exam; however, it’s important to know that their results can help identify underlying cardiac conditions that put athletes at greater risk.

Each school's chief medical officer must sign off saying a child is physically ready to participate at the higher level.

The pre-participation exam helps ensure your athlete is ready to participate, but there are other important considerations. Find out if your school’s athletic trainers or sports-medicine trained physicians are immediately available at all events. These health care professionals are educated in the evaluation and management of cardiac emergencies and can help prevent or reduce catastrophic outcomes.

Your school should have a written emergency action plan in place specific to each athletic venue. The plan should include information such as communication, personnel, equipment, transportation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training and automated external defibrillator (AED) access. It’s important that the school review and practice the plan every year.

When it comes to a cardiac emergency, early defibrillation can be lifesaving not only for athletes, but for spectators, coaches, officials and staff as well. Make sure your school has these procedures in place:

  • AEDs should be on-site and readily available within three minutes (one minute is ideal) for all organized sports activities. They should be placed on the sidelines during both practices and games.
  • School staff, medical professionals, parents, coaches and athletes should be educated annually about the location and use of AEDs.
  • AEDs should be checked regularly to be sure they are in good working order.
  • All coaches should have CPR, AED and first aid training.

NATA has created an infographic handout on “Matters of the Heart” that includes signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest in athletes. Visit atyourownrisk.org for additional sports safety tips for athletes and parents.

 

 

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