Children’s Playing Video Games May Cause Rare Heart Attacks

The death of UK kid Jake Gallagher, 16, who suffered a heart attack while playing video games, made headlines around the world. Numerous stories referred to the 2013 episode as a rare, isolated incident and noted that the kid was at danger due to an underlying cardiac issue.

But according to recent research, such incidents may be more common than you might imagine.

22 adolescents and teenagers who lost consciousness while playing video games and developed heart rhythm abnormalities and other cardiac complications were uncovered by Australian experts who analysed nearly 70 research and reports on the cardiovascular dangers from electronic gaming.

Aged 7 to 16, the majority of the participants were male, and 19 of them had ventricular arrhythmia, a dangerous abnormal heartbeat. Four people died abruptly, and six people experienced heart attacks. Only 7 of the 22 patients, according to the researchers, had previously been diagnosed with arrhythmia or another type of heart issue.

According to lead researcher Claire M. Lawley, MBBS, PhD, with The Heart Centre for Children in Sydney, Australia, “video games may represent a serious risk for some children with arrhythmic conditions; they might be lethal in patients with predisposing, but frequently previously unrecognised arrhythmic conditions.” Children who suddenly pass out while playing video games need to be evaluated by a heart specialist because this could be the first indication of a serious cardiac condition.

According to Christian Turner, MBBS, a co-author of the study that was published in the journal Heart Rhythm, such situations are uncommon. Nevertheless, the research advises parents to keep an eye out for any stress-related behaviours in their children as they play video games, such as abrupt fainting or blacking out under intense excitement, which could indicate a cardiac problem that could endanger their lives.

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He claims that “the population at risk is extraordinarily small.” Children who engage in physical activity or play video games are not more at risk than those who participate in school sports. Parents should take their children to the nearest or family doctor if they experience a new blackout, faint, collapse, or seizure. The family doctor will then decide whether more testing are required.

Daniel Sohinki, MD, of the Department of Cardiology at Augusta University in Georgia, argues in an editorial that the study’s findings support the need for screening programmes that “should encompass athletes being considered for participation in eSports” and are similar to those that are advised for collegiate sports.

What’s required, according to Sohinki, is a greater knowledge of how physical or mental stress activates the cardiovascular system in ways that might be harmful to athletes who play video games and those who participate in more traditional sports. The same might be said for other extremely stressful pursuits like watching thrilling competitive sporting events or terrifying movies that make your heart race.

What matters, he argues, is what type of stress activates the cardiovascular system. The common denominator between aerobic exercise and competitive video games is that both involve increased heart rate and stimulated input to the cardiovascular system, regardless of whether it involves mental or physical excitement.

He points out that new research calls into question the popular wisdom that traditional sports like basketball, soccer, and hockey—which might put young athletes at risk for sudden cardiac death—are safer for children with underlying heart conditions than computer games.

“I think in the past there’s been a belief that maybe some sort of sedentary activity, like playing a video game, would be safer for them if there’s a youngster who we believe is at risk for arrhythmia or some sort of cardiovascular issue from aerobic exercise,” he adds. “However, this article argues that you can’t necessarily be confident that a competitive video game is going to be a safer pastime for them if you have a youngster that you perceive to be at risk for a cardiac event for any reason.”

The new review’s findings were drawn from dozens of studies and publications on young people who suddenly lost consciousness while playing video games and were found to have underlying heart issues. The studies and reports served as the foundation for the Australian researchers’ conclusions.

Among the researches’ conclusions were:

  • Multiplayer war gaming was the most prevalent trigger among the 22 cases that were found.

  • 19 males (86%) were found to have had ventricular arrhythmia while electronic gaming, either suspected or verified.
  • Four (18%) people died unexpectedly, and six (27%) went into cardiac arrest.

Only seven patients (31%) had underlying heart issues before to the procedure; nevertheless, 12 patients (54%) had such conditions validated.

  • Heart rhythm disorders called CPVD (catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia) and LQTS were the most prevalent underlying diseases (congenital long QT syndrome).The research team also discovered that the gamers had a high occurrence of genetic variations (63%) that have important ramifications for their families. In other instances, the examination of a child who passed out while playing a video game resulted in the diagnosis of a serious heart rhythm disorder in other family members.

Turner asserts that although being alarming, he does not think the researchers’ findings warrant broad screening of all kids with echocardiograms, stress tests, or other testing before allowing them to play video games.According to him, in Sydney, Australia, “we consider the potential hazards of screening all children for such a rare ailment exceed the potential advantages.” “Screening is not realistic in the real world since it would require administering an exercise stress test to every youngster in the neighbourhood. The medical profession is already aware that any syncope [loss of consciousness] that occurs during exercise should be looked at. In this study, we found that syncope in video games should be examined in a similar way.

However, Sohinki contends that any youngster who has shown signs of a potential cardiac disease has to at the very least get a routine physical examination and be checked for any signs that would indicate video games can be dangerous. These suggestions are in accord with those made by the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), which estimates that between 1 in 40,000 and 1 in 80,000 athletes experience sudden cardiac death each year.

He adds that the NCAA requires a minimum of a thorough medical history and physical exam that looks for cardiac symptoms or a personal or family history of cardiovascular illness. It is advised for all NCAA athletes to do that. Therefore, I believe there is a compelling case to be made that… it should be extended to anyone who is going to engage in competitive video game play. I believe you may argue that a history and physical examination is a worthwhile intervention given its low cost. That has my support.

The problem affects Sohinki on a personal and professional level because he has a young son and enjoys playing video games. He follows his own advice.

He said, “I have a 3-year-old and he has seen me play video games and asked to play games too.” He’s already undergone an echocardiography screening because I also have a heritable heart valve problem. But I’m not sure I would do much more than a medical history and physical screening before letting him play video games if he had no symptoms or a known history of cardiovascular disease.

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