Health care professionals have to familiarize themselves with 14 key points on a newly released checklist for uncommon but deadly congenital and genetic heart disease in young people. The American Heart Association teamed up with the American College of Cardiology and released a new heart health screening process for young 12- to 25-year-olds and to clarify any misconceptions about sudden heart-related deaths. They published their study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"Although sudden death among young people is rare, it is always a tragedy, and the infrequency of these events in no way mitigates their importance or impact on families and the community. However, the media coverage of sudden cardiac arrests in athletes may have created the exaggerated impression that these tragic events are far more common than they actually are, or that they are limited to athletes," Barry J. Maron, the chair of the writing panel for the statement and director of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, said in a press release.

The misconception of athletes being at a higher risk for sudden cardiac arrest does a disservice to the public who aren’t as aware that any young person is just as susceptible to such a life-threatening event. There are rare cases of seemingly healthy young people dying while playing sports and has led to electrocardiogram (ECG) requirements to monitor an athlete’s heart. However, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology statement says it doesn’t really help discover underlying heart problems in young healthy people in the U.S. because of false negatives and false positives.

"Those who do not sign up for sports are just as likely to have the genetic heart diseases that raise the risk for sudden death," Maron said. "Since there are by far more non-athletes — only about one percent of college students and 30 percent of high school students participate in competitive sports — there are more deaths in non-athletes participating in recreational sports and normal daily activities.”

Previously, the check list only included 12 points when it was first released in 2007, but now that there has been two more added onto the list, the 14-element screening checklist will help health professionals thoroughly spot any red flags. If a young person says yes to any of the 14 points they will be required to undergo further testing and an ECG test just to cover all bases.   

14-Step Screening Process

  1. Chest pain/discomfort upon exertion
  2. Unexplained fainting or near-fainting
  3. Excessive and unexplained fatigue associated with exercise
  4. Heart murmur
  5. High blood pressure
  6. One or more relatives who died of heart disease (sudden/unexpected or otherwise) before age 50
  7. Close relative under age 50 with disability from heart disease
  8. Specific knowledge of certain cardiac conditions in family members: hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy in which the heart cavity or wall becomes enlarged, long QT syndrome which affects the heart’s electrical rhythm, Marfan syndrome in which the walls of the heart’s major arteries are weakened, or clinically important arrhythmias or heart rhythms.
  9. Heart murmur
  10. Femoral pulses to exclude narrowing of the aorta
  11. Physical appearance of Marfan syndrome
  12. Brachial artery blood pressure (taken in a sitting position)
  13. If individual has been restricted from participation in sports in the past
  14. If individual has had prior testing for the heart, ordered by a health care provider