This Heart-Stopping Condition May Have Warning Signs

have is a cardiac arrest.”

That’s when a full web of community support is crucial, said Dr. Robert Campbell, a pediatric cardiologist at the Sibley Heart Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Campbell was not involved in the new research.

People should understand their own and their family’s history of illness, to know if they might be at risk, he said. At the same time, family doctors, school nurses and community members all should know the symptoms and signs of cardiac arrest. Then, he said, everyone should know the steps to save a life: Call 911; initiate CPR; and use an AED, an automated external defibrillator that checks and restores a heart to its normal rhythm.

“You have to be curious and careful. It doesn’t cost money to ask questions,” said Campbell, medical director of Project SAVE, a program the children’s hospital started in 2004 to help prevent sudden cardiac deaths. So far, about 1,200 Georgia schools have gone through SAVE’s training, which includes creating emergency action plans, CPR education, and drills.

An Ohio law last year began requiring education and training for coaches, parents, and athletes on the signs and symptoms of an underlying heart condition. It requires a signed form to acknowledge the symptoms and mandates that children with heart disease symptoms be removed from play until cleared by a cardiologist. A version of the law has been passed in other states.

“The dream would be to identify these people before they have a cardiac arrest,” said Al-Khatib, who helped write guidelines for preventing sudden cardiac arrest in patients who have a rapid heart rate called ventricular arrhythmia. “What are the other clinical features, some tests to identify this higher risk group? That’s where the research hasn’t delivered yet.”

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