A 10-Minute Cardiac Test Could Save Children's Lives

Filed under: Health & Safety: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Health & Safety: Tweens, Health & Safety: Teens, Research Reveals: Teens, Health


children medical tests

Researchers suggest parents add an electrocardiogram to their children's medical checkups as a precaution. Credit: Getty Images

Heart conditions in children often fly under the radar, and parents too often learn their children had problems while mourning their deaths.

However, a 10-minute electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) could save lives.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia conducted a pilot project where the relatively inexpensive screening identified potentially fatal heart problems in 10 out of 400 seemingly healthy children.

In a hospital press release, researchers suggest parents add an electrocardiogram to children's medical checkups as a precaution against the tragedy of sudden cardiac arrest.

"In the United States, the current American Heart Association guidelines recommend screening only competitive athletes, not all children, using history and physical examination alone," study leader Victoria L. Vetter, a pediatric cardiologist at the hospital, says in the press release.

She adds that Italy and Japan have compulsory screening of all athletes and school children.

"Our pilot study evaluated the feasibility of adding an ECG to cardiac screening of healthy school-aged children," Vetter says in the release.

Researchers published their study March 15 in the American Heart Journal.

Sudden cardiac arrest in children is caused by structural or electrical problems in the heart that frequently cause no symptoms and often go undiagnosed. Between 100 and 1,000 American children die every year as a result.

"In our study, using ECG outperformed the history and physical examination and found previously unidentified potentially serious abnormalities that would not have been identified by history and physical examination alone," researchers conclude.

They add that children in the screening were not all high school athletes, and most would not have undergone cardiac screening. Regular checkups had not detected the cardiac conditions.

"Performing the ECG and its interpretation added less than 10 minutes to each subject's total evaluation," Vetter says in the release, adding that the ECG machines are portable and relatively inexpensive.

"Our pilot study showed that adding ECG to the currently recommended guideline of history and physical examination is feasible for screening children and adolescents, and offers the potential to identify serious cardiovascular abnormalities," she says. "However, our study was not designed to be generalizable to a larger population of children at risk for SCA. Larger, more representative studies must be done, as well as cost-effectiveness research."

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