8-Year-Old Dies Following Supposed Sudden Cardiac Arrest

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Other reasons for heart attack would include a structural abnormality of the heart or arteries that a child would be born with. Unfortunately, for these issues, the first symptom that presents can often be a heart attack or sudden cardiac death.

Another reason that children might suffer from a heart attack is as a complication from Kawosaki Syndrome, a relatively common illness in infants and children that results in an inflammation of the arteries, says Dr. Rene Herlong, a pediatric cardiologist with Singer Heart & Vascular Institute, where the boy from North Carolina was treated. Fortunately, this syndrome is very treatable these days, once diagnosed, will usually not escalate to the point of heart attack, he adds.

Cardiac arrest due to arrhythmias and other inherited heart conditions are much more likely to afflict children than heart attack itself, however.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, where the structure of the heart muscle is abnormal, and myocarditis, where the heart muscle itself becomes inflamed, are more likely heart problems for children and will often result in an arrhythmia that prevents the heart from beating normally, says Dr. Harry Kaplovitz, a pediatric cardiologist at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn. Cardiomyopathy is often inherited, he adds, but for myocarditis, there often isn't a clear answer for why it occurs.

An inherited predisposition to an arrhythmic beat is another culprit for cardiac arrest that can be difficult to diagnose, Peterson says. Because the child will not always have an erratic heartbeat, a medical exam would have to specifically catch a period of arrhythmia in order to catch the problem.

Warning Signs and Quelling Fears

So what can a parent do to protect their child against sudden cardiac death?

In some cases, diagnosis can be incredibly difficult as the first symptom of a problem will be cardiac arrest or sudden death. Examples of this have been widely publicized in cases of teen athletes who drop dead seemingly out of no where on the field or court. While these instances are devastating, Herlong urge parents to not become overly worried that this might happen to their child as it "as rare as walking outside and getting hit by lightning."

"I would try to take away fear from parents," he says. "I would want to reassure parents of children that have been receiving routine health care and who are not known to have any kind of heart condition that the chances here are vanishingly small."

But if your child suffers from chest pain, especially during exercise, or faints during exercise, this is something that should be checked out by a medical professional as it could be a sign of a heart condition, he says.

Knowing the family history and being away of any genetic predispositions towards heart conditions is one of the best things a parent can do, Peterson says. And when a heart attack or cardiac arrest occurs, it is essential to give the child basic life support in the form of CPR or defibrillation, if a defibrillator is available, as soon as possible until advanced life support from medical professionals arrives.

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