Video Games May Trigger Deadly Irregular Heart Rhythms in Children, Study Warns


PHILADELPHIA CREAM – Video games can trigger deadly irregular heart rhythms in children, new research suggests. An Australian team says gambling can be as dangerous as competitive sports like football and rugby.

The contests are so emotionally charged that they have caused fatal heart attacks in children whose irregular heartbeats have gone undiagnosed. The predisposition often goes unnoticed, putting otherwise healthy adolescents at risk for deadly “cardiac arrhythmias.” The Australian team attributed the phenomenon to nervous tension caused by excitement.

“Video games can pose a serious risk to some children with arrhythmia; they could be fatal in patients with predisposing, but often previously unrecognized, arrhythmic conditions,” says lead researcher Claire Lawley, MBBS, PhD, of the Heart Center for Children, in a Press release. “Children who suddenly lose consciousness while playing electronic games should be evaluated by a cardiologist as this could be the first sign of a serious heart problem.”

1 in 2,000 children are at risk

The study, in the journal Heartbeat, identified an “uncommon, but distinct pattern” in vulnerable children. A systematic review of the medical literature identified 22 cases of fainting, occurring mostly during war games involving multiple players.

Some died after suffering cardiac arrest. Subsequent diagnoses of several heart rhythm disorders put children at continued risk. The most common underlying causes were catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) and long QT syndrome (LQTS).

The first leads to an increase in calcium levels inside the cells. The latter retards the electrical system of the heart. The congenital conditions each affect up to one in 2,000 children. Almost two in three patients carried mutations linked to irregular heartbeats, which has important implications.

In some cases, the investigation of a child who passed out while playing led to the diagnosis of many family members with a life-threatening heart rhythm problem.

“Families and health care teams should consider safety precautions regarding electronic games in children who have a condition where dangerous rapid heart rhythms pose a risk,” notes Dr. Lawley.

What leads to these dangerous incidents?

At the time of the incidents, many were in a state of excitement, having just won or lost matches, or were arguing with their mates.

“We already know that some children have heart problems that can put them at risk when playing competitive sports, but we were shocked to find that some patients had fatal memory loss while playing video games,” adds the co-investigator Christian Turner, MBBS. “Gaming was something that I previously thought was an alternative ‘safe activity’. This is a really important discovery. We need to make sure everyone knows how important it is to get checked out when someone has had a blackout episode under these circumstances.

Heart problems are increasingly common among young people. Last month, air pollution was linked to an increase in irregular heartbeats in otherwise healthy teenagers.

“Having cared for children with heart rhythm disorders for over 25 years, I was amazed at how widespread this emerging presentation is and to find that a number of children have even died from it. collaborators are keen to raise awareness of this phenomenon so that our colleagues around the world can recognize it and protect these children and their families,” says study co-investigator Jonathan Skinner, MBChB, MD, of the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network.

Augusta University cardiologist Dr. Daniel Sohinki, who was not involved in the study, says the finding has broad implications.

“Exercise should be understood to encompass activities outside of traditional competitive athletics. Appropriate counseling regarding the risks of intense video gaming should be targeted in children with a proarrhythmic cardiac diagnosis and in any child with a history of exertional syncope of undetermined etiology. Additionally, any future screening program to identify athletes at risk for malignant arrhythmias should include athletes who are being considered for esports participation,” concludes Dr. Sohinki .

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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Carolyn M. Daniel