If you heart skips a beat, best be sure it's because of love and not a heart arrhythmia. But if you're playing an intense video game, better not get all that worked up to avoid an arrhythmia and a lethal cardiac arrest or heart attack.

A research letter published on Sept. 19 in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed the cases of three young boys between the ages of 10 and 15 that fainted or lost consciousness due to the intense excitement in the violent video games they were playing.

An arrhythmia manifests in an irregular heartbeat that’s either too fast or too slow. A too fast heart rate (above 100 beats per minute in adults) is called tachycardia. A too slow heart rate (below 60 beats per minute) is called bradycardia.

These boys weren't your normal healthy kids, however. Each was found to have rare and very serious underlying heart abnormalities that contributed to their syncope or loss of consciousness. The syncope surprised two of the boys who had never been diagnosed with a heart problem.

"Heart rhythm recordings either at the time or subsequently revealed that they had suffered a life-threatening heart rhythm disturbance -- a form of ventricular tachycardia, in essence a near cardiac arrest," Dr. Christian Turner, senior researcher, said. He is a pediatric cardiologist with the Children's Hospital at Westmead in Australia.

Dr. Turner believes it's likely these episodes occurred when these three boys began getting very excited while playing video games.

"Presumably what is happening is that the child is getting so excited that adrenaline is building up in the body and this is triggering the abnormal rhythm," Dr. Turner said.

These three cases show video games can produce the same adrenaline rush that kill athletes and people under extreme duress, according to Dr. Ranjit Suri, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Mount Sinai St. Luke's in New York City.

"You hear it said that he got so angry he died suddenly, he got so frightened he died suddenly," Dr. Suri said. "It's in the same league. It's just that now we recognize gaming can produce that kind of rush."

Dr. Suri said people shouldn't underestimate the danger posed by irregular heart rhythms that cause syncope.

"The only difference between syncope and sudden death is that, in syncope, you wake up. In a sense, syncope is aborted sudden death -- aborted in the sense that the arrhythmia stops. The person passes out, the arrhythmia stops, and they live to tell the tale," Dr. Suri noted.

"Next time, you might not be that lucky."

Video game
Video games combine all forms of media, from music, to visual arts, and of course, programming. Anton Porsche/Pixabay