Heart Disorder May No Longer Keep Kids Out of Sports

Study finds some patients at low-risk for adverse events

Young athlete with basketball

For kids with a heart rhythm disorder called long Q-T syndrome, or LQTS, sports are not usually an option. That may change soon.

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A new study finds playing competitive, organized sports may be safer for these children than originally thought.

Researchers studied more than 100 children with LQTS, a rare inherited arrhythmia disorder that affects about one in 2,500 to 5,000 people in the United States.

Current guidelines for children who are born with LQTS are kept out of competitive sports.

Lack of activity may do more harm than good

“That’s not easy for some kids to deal with,” says Peter Aziz, MD, a pediatric cardiologist and Director of the Inherited Arrhythmia’s Clinic.  “They already feel different. They’re on medication and they’re not allowed to do things that other kids do.”

The restriction, Dr. Aziz says, could lead to depression, weight gain, and other adverse effects.  The research aimed to determine whether sports limitation could be more lenient.  Then they observed how the kids responded to sports activity.

For kids with LQTS, the electrical activity of the patient’s heart is disrupted, causing a delay in the heartbeat recharge time. Long Q-T syndrome can cause anything from a fainting spell to cardiac arrest.

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Symptoms are most common during:

  • exercise (or within a few minutes after)
  • emotional excitement, especially being startled
  • during sleep or upon waking suddenly

The children in the study returned to play after a team of physicians, coaches, and parents created an extensive management plan.  It involved medication, communication with coaches and parents, a defibrillator at every game and practice, as well as a plan that was created just in case something went wrong.

After following the children for an average of seven years, nothing went wrong.  There were no cardiac events or worse, death during sports participation.

Sports still not for every patient 

While the results are promising, more research is needed to change the current guidelines.

“The study adds some fuel for debate, at least to the current guidelines in that sports participation shouldn’t be excluded for everybody that has long QT syndrome,” Dr. Aziz says.  “We think that there are some patients who can participate safely, based on growing evidence now.”

The findings should prompt more studies and could help ease some of the restrictions on kids living with long QT syndrome, especially when it comes to sports.

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“We’re not saying that this is a one-size fits all approach,” Dr. Aziz says.  “Not every long Q-T syndrome patient is free to play sports.”

Patients should still follow the doctor’s orders when it comes to playing sports. If the patient follows the doctor’s treatment strategy, the risk is low.

“Certainly lower than we thought in the past,” Dr. Aziz says.

Dr. Aziz says that playing outside is not the same as competitive sports.

“Kids will be kids,” he says. “Competitive athletics comes with a surge of adrenaline,” Dr. Aziz says.

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