Warning symptoms and family history in children and young adults with sudden cardiac arrest

J Am Board Fam Med. 2012 Jul-Aug;25(4):408-15. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2012.04.110225.


Background: Children and young adults with undiagnosed cardiovascular disorders at risk for sudden death may have warning symptoms or significant family history that is detectable through screening. The objective of this study was to determine the prevalence of warning symptoms and family history in a cohort of children and young adults who suffered sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

Methods: A retrospective survey investigating warning symptoms and family history of cardiovascular disease was completed by families with a child or young adult who suffered SCA.

Results: Eighty-seven of 146 families (60%) returned a completed survey. The SCA victims were an average age of 16 years (range, <5-29 years), 69% male, and 68% white. Seventy-two percent of SCA victims were reported by their parents to have at least one cardiovascular symptom before SCA, with fatigue (44%) and near-syncope/lightheadedness (30%) the two most common. Twenty-four percent of SCA victims had one or more (average 2.6; range, 1 to 10) events of syncope or unexplained seizure that remained undiagnosed as a cardiac disorder before SCA. Parents reported that cardiovascular symptoms first occurred, on average, 30 months (range, 19 to 71 months) before SCA; a symptom was brought to the attention of the child's physician in 41% of cases. Twenty-seven percent of families reported a family member had suffered sudden death before age 50 because of a heart condition.

Conclusions: Many children and young adults who suffered SCA are reported to have cardiac symptoms or a family history of premature cardiac death. Syncope and unexplained seizure activity are distinct events but often go unrecognized as ominous signs of underlying cardiovascular disease. Physician education and increased public awareness regarding cardiovascular warning signs in the young may improve early detection of those at risk and prevent tragedies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / prevention & control*
  • Family Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking*
  • Primary Prevention
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sports Medicine
  • United States
  • Young Adult