October 12, 2022 – when he was 16 years old Jake Gallagher Died of a heart attack While playing video games, the death of the British teenager made international headlines. Several reports described the 2013 case as a rare isolated incident, noting that the teen had an underlying heart condition that put him at risk.
But new research suggests that such conditions are more common than you think.
Australian scientists who reviewed nearly 70 studies and reports on cardiovascular risks from electronic games identified 22 children and teens who lost consciousness while playing video games and experienced heart rhythm problems and other heart complications.
Nineteen of the male players, ages 7 to 16, experienced a serious arrhythmia known as ventricular arrhythmia. Six of them had heart attacks and four died suddenly. The researchers also found that only 7 of 22 people had a previous diagnosis of arrhythmia or other heart problems.
“Video games may present a serious risk to some children with arrhythmias; they may be fatal in patients with predisposing arrhythmias, but often have not been previously recognized,” the chief investigator notes. Claire M. Lully, MBBS, PhD, with the Children’s Heart Center in Sydney, Australia, in a statement. “Children who suddenly lose consciousness while playing electronic games should be evaluated by a cardiologist as this may be the first sign of a serious heart problem.”
Such cases are rare, he says Christian TurnerMBBS, co-author of the report, which was published in the journal Heartbeat. However, the findings suggest that parents are watching their children for signs of play stress — such as sudden fainting or fainting during periods of intense excitement — that may indicate an underlying heart condition that could put their lives at risk.
“The population at risk is exceptionally small,” he says. “Children who play games electronically will not be at greater risk from playing school sports or doing physical activity. For a parent, if their child has a new syncope, fainting, collapse or seizure, they should be seen by their local doctor or family doctor. He will determine The family doctor will then ask whether further examinations are needed.”
In the editorial accompanying the new report, Daniel Sohinke, MD, With the Department of Cardiology at Augusta University in Georgia, he argues, the study results suggest that screening programs — similar to what is recommended for team sports — aimed at identifying underlying heart problems “should include athletes whose participation in esports is being considered.”
What is needed, Sohinki says, is a better understanding of how stress – mental or physical – stimulates the cardiovascular system in ways that can be dangerous for traditional players and athletes alike. The same can also be said for other highly stressful activities, such as watching horror movies or exciting competitive sporting events that make your heart beat faster.
“What it comes down to is the kind of stress that stimulates the cardiovascular system,” he says. “Whether it’s mental agitation or physical exertion, something that increases the heart rate and increases the stimulating input of the cardiovascular system…that’s the common underlying theme between aerobic exercise and competitive video games.”
He points out that the new findings should prompt a rethink of the traditional belief that video games are safer for children with underlying heart problems than traditional sports, such as basketball, soccer and hockey, which can put young athletes at risk of sudden death from a heart attack.
“I think in the past, there was the idea that if there was a child that we thought was at risk of an arrhythmia or some kind of cardiovascular complication from aerobic exercise, maybe some kind of sedentary activity, like playing a video game, would be safer for them.” , he says. “But what this paper argues is that if you have a child who you think is at risk for heart disease for any reason, you can’t necessarily rest assured that a competitive video game will be a safer activity for them.”
The Australian investigators who conducted the new review based their conclusions on dozens of studies and reports of children who experienced sudden loss of consciousness while playing video games and were determined to develop underlying heart disease.
Among the findings of the researchers:
- Of the 22 cases identified, multiplayer war games were the most common cause.
- 19 males (86%) were identified as having suspected or proven ventricular arrhythmia during electronic gaming.
- Six (27%) had cardiac arrest and four (18%) died suddenly.
- Underlying cardiac conditions in only seven (31%) patients were known previously, but were confirmed in 12 (54%) thereafter.
- The most common underlying conditions were heart rhythm disturbances known as CPVD (catecholamine polymorphic ventricular tachycardia) and LQTS (congenital long QT syndrome).
The research team also found a high percentage of genetic variants (63%) among the players, which have significant implications for their families. In some cases, investigations of a child who lost consciousness during video games led to other family members being diagnosed with a significant familial heart rhythm problem.
Turner says he believes the researchers’ findings, while worrisome, should not lead to calls for widespread screening of all children — using echocardiograms, stress tests, or other procedures — before they are allowed to play video games.
“We, in Sydney, Australia, feel that the potential harms of screening all children for such a rare condition outweigh the potential benefits,” he says. “Screening entails a stress test on every child in the community which is certainly impractical in the real world. The medical community is already aware of this fainting. [loss of consciousness] while exercising. Our findings in this report suggest that syncope during electronic gaming should similarly be investigated.”
But Sohinke argues that any child who has symptoms of a possible heart condition should have at least a standard physical exam and evaluated for any symptoms that may indicate that video games may pose a potential danger. These recommendations are consistent with NCAA guidelines for athletes, which estimate sudden heartbeats between 1 in 40,000 and 1 in 80,000 athletes each year.
“For the NCAA, the bottom line is a comprehensive medical history and physical examination aimed at identifying cardiac symptoms or a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease,” he notes. “This is recommended for all NCAA athletes. So I think there is a strong argument to be made… This should extend to anyone who is going to be competitively involved in a video game. I think you can justify the history and physical examination as a cost-effective intervention. I will support that “.
For Sohinki, who has a young son and is himself a player, this issue is a personal and professional concern. He does what he preaches.
“I have a three-year-old who watched me play video games and asked me to play games too,” he says. I also have a file [heart] Inherited valve condition, so he’s already had an echocardiogram. But if he didn’t have any symptoms or a known history of cardiovascular disease, I’m not sure I’d have anything more than a medical history and physical exam before letting him play video games.”