Athletes encouraged to get regular cardiac screening

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Few things can be so exciting, so demanding, so heart racing than Friday night on the gridiron, especially for the players themselves. While young athletes seem to be the picture of health, some may have a hidden problem.

"There's very good information out there that suggests that people who are athletic or participate in more aggressive sports or activities are at a higher risk of a sudden death event than somebody else in the general population," said pediatric cardiologist Dr. Lester Hixon.

Before players from Woodlawn High School set foot on the field, they are given a cardiac screening. Heart issues are among the most common causes for a sudden death event in athletes.

"A lot of patients don't have symptoms and therefore these problems go undetected and when you're under stress or your heart is under stress, bad things can happen," explained Hixon.

"The demands on our players are so much greater than they were in the past. We're practicing all the time; we're working all the time.  We just want to make sure that these kids understand that their bodies are of utmost importance," said WHS Principal Daniel Edwards.

There are two screenings done: an EKG which looks at a heart's rhythm, and an echocardiogram which is an ultra sound of the heart.  These screenings can detect some of the most common types of hidden heart problems, an enlarged heart or thickening of the heart muscle.  Both conditions can be developmental and keep blood from pumping like it should.

Hixon hopes to see all schools participate in cardiac screening of its athletes.

"This is what a lot of this is about, is identifying patients who are at risk for a bad event and then that may require additional evaluation," said Hixon.

Hixon says every athlete, boy or girl, should have regular checkups.  The screenings at WHS were done by the Louisiana Pediatric Cardiology Foundation, Baton Rouge Children's Health Project and Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital.

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