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Seven Signs That May Warn Of A Rare Heart Condition

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As Americans look to keep their fitness resolutions and increase their physical activity, Dr. Bing Liem, cardiologist and electrophysiologist at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif., is hoping to raise awareness of a critical but rare heart condition: congenital malformations of the heart or vascular system, which is to blame for the majority of sudden cardiac deaths in athletes under the age of 40.
"It's always heart-wrenching to hear news of a young athlete, at the zenith of fitness, dying suddenly on the sports field," said Dr. Liem, who estimates that up to one in 500 people have inherited heart disease that may predispose them to sudden death. "The fact that many athletes and their parents aren't cognizant of potential warning signs speaks to the importance of raising awareness of this condition."
Raise Awareness, Save a Life
According to Dr. Liem, there are seven top warning signs that indicate a patient may be at risk for sudden death from cardiac arrest and should see a doctor for screening:
1. Family history of sudden premature death: Patients with a family member or relative who died suddenly of cardiac arrest under the age of 40 have an increased chance of also carrying the defective genes that cause congenital malformations of the heart.
2. History of heart murmur: Frequent heart murmurs may indicate a possible heart muscle abnormality or damaged and overworked heart valve.

3. History of fainting or near-fainting: Fainting (syncope) or nearly fainting (pre-syncope) at any time could be due to the heart's impaired ability to pump blood.
4. History of palpitations: The patient experiences noticeable heartbeats that are fast or irregular.
5. Feeling of discomfort in the chest during exertion: When active, the patient feels pressure, pain or discomfort in the chest, indicating a less than healthy heart.
6. Shortness of breath with exertion: The patient is unduly winded by physical activities, indicating also a less than healthy heart.
7. Light-headedness with or without exertion: The patient feels dizzy or faint during physical activity, which can be caused by structural or electrical abnormality in the heart.
Screening Options
If at risk, Dr. Liem recommends a simple screening process to determine risk. The screening involves discussing family history of cardiac arrest, having a cardiologist administer a focused cardiac examination and obtaining an EKG.
"These basic steps can provide a good insight into the young athlete's heart condition. If any of these assessments raises concern, further tests for the heart will be recommended," said Dr. Liem, who noted that he is also using newly available genetic tests offered at El Camino Hospital's Genomic Medicine Institute to determine if patients are carriers of the defective genes that cause congenital malformations of the heart. If diagnosed, patients can use defibrillators and curtail their athleticism to manage the disease, according to Dr. Liem.
Cardiac screening tests are not a mandatory requirement in routine physical exams. In an effort to raise awareness of the condition and provide a potentially lifesaving service, El Camino Hospital has offered a series of free cardiac screening tests to young athletes in the communities of Los Gatos and Mountain View. For more information about Dr. Liem's next free screening session, click here or go to El Camino Hospital's Heart and Vascular Institute event page to see a full list of activities throughout the month.
El Camino Hospital
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