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Children's health

08th May 2024

Cardiologist warns parents of ‘red flags’ in children’s cardiac health

Sophie Collins

Cardiac health

We all worry about our children’s health when they show signs of anything amiss

It’s normal to want to make sure everything is ok and sometimes it’s absolutely the right call to get a doctor’s opinion.

Speaking to Dr Afif El Khuffash on The Baby Tribe podcast, paediatric cardiologist, Professor Orla Franklin gave advice to parents of children and teenagers when it comes to common symptoms experienced by young people that may indicate a risk of heart disease.

Speaking about the risks, she says: “The most common one we see in boys is chest pain. 

“Chest pain in growing teenagers is super common. Cardiac chest pain (angina) is very rare, even in children that we know have heart disease.”

She explained that as kids grow and stretch through the years, you can find that children and teenagers develop short, sharp central chest pain that is usually not provoked by exercise.

“It’s really sharp and then it’s gone. It’s gone as soon as it comes. There’s excellent data now from multiple surveys involving tens of thousands of kids that these boys will be fine. 

“But of course, the kids who come in are often super sporty, super active. They come from families who are very invested in maintaining their children’s long term cardiac health.”

She said in this case they do see them and carry out the appropriate screenings to amke sure there is nothing else amiss with their overall health. 

Prof. Orla Franklin went on to say: “We know from all of our own data, and from the worldwide literature that there’s something else going on in less than 2% of these kids.”

Fainting is more common in growing girls

When it comes to young girls and teenagers, doctors see more cases of fainting as they grow, but boys can also experience this to a lesser extent.

“So we know as you go through puberty, 1 in 6 teenagers will faint. We know the peak ages for fainting is around 15. 

“We see a lot of kids like this again, to screen for heart disease and make sure it’s not there, which by and large it isn’t. 

She went on to explain that in general, the more serious things they come across in kids, they’re born with and that the cohort of children who have symptoms like fainting and chest pains are generally a healthy group.

“By and large, the complex stuff that we see in kids, they’re born with, for children with symptoms of fainting, chest pain, they’re by and large a healthy group”.

When asked about other red flags to watch out for, Professor Franklin explained:

“We don’t like any events relating to swimming or cold water immersion. We don’t like it when we hear that a child was running and then they dropped. 

“Most kids run, feel a bit unwell, look white in the face, get to the edge of the pitch and then they drop. That’s a more benign phenomenon.”

She said it’s easy to become worried if we hear this can occur in the context of a family history.

“The dynamic is changing a little bit,” she went on to explain. “There used to be a lot of issues in relation to exercise, but now we realise that some of that is adrenaline release. 

“And so now, for example, there are certain arrhythmias that are well described in boys playing video games, tragically and suddenly, a boy who has been invested and excited about a video game may drop, may have a sinkable event, anything like that. 

“We need to see this child. We need to go through this with a fine tooth comb and try to find those kids and preserve their health”.

Sudden Death

Professor Franklin then spoke about the worry parents have about sudden death in children:

“Every single parent in Ireland is completely worried, and rightly so, about the risk of sudden death. 

“It’s something that we all really worry about. We’ve all stood at the side lines watching our kids get very flushed in the face, or come off a pitch looking white because they’ve given it their all and we think could there be something happening here?”

“And, you know, finding those kids who have that risk because of heart muscle disease, because of inherited rhythm problems, that’s something in the teenage group that we are super invested in doing.”

She then said there is a screening available for this, so if you spot any red flags in your family history you can request a second look “and hopefully our objective will be to get you back on the pitch. 

“That’s where we want you to be. We want to do the testing, reassure you and get you back out there with confidence”.

Remember, if your child is showing any signs mentioned above, never feel that you are being dramatic by getting a doctor’s opinion. Always contact your GP if you have genuine worries when it comes to your child’s health.