Detecting and preventing heart defects

The 7 top warning signs:
From Dr. Bing Liem

  1. Family history of sudden premature death: Patients with a family member or relative who died suddenly of cardiac arrest under the age of 40 have an increased chance of also carrying the defective genes that cause congenital malformations of the heart.

  2. History of heart murmur: Frequent heart murmurs may indicate a possible heart muscle abnormality or damaged and overworked heart valve.

  3. History of fainting or near-fainting: Fainting (syncope) or nearly fainting (pre-syncope) at any time could be due to the heart's impaired ability to pump blood.

  4. History of palpitations: The patient experiences noticeable heartbeats that are fast or irregular.

  5. Feeling of discomfort in the chest during exertion: When active, the patient feels pressure, pain or discomfort in the chest, indicating a less than healthy heart.

  6. Shortness of breath with exertion: The patient is unduly winded by physical activities, indicating also a less than healthy heart.

  7. Light-headedness with or without exertion: The patient feels dizzy or faint during physical activity, which can be caused by structural or electrical abnormality in the heart.
Heart screenings for teenagers and teen athletes:

Advocacy efforts around heart screenings have been especially prevalent in Northern California where, last year, Tim Halpin lost his son, a 17-year-old Los Gatos High School football player, to what proved to be congenital heart malfunctions.

With the help of a few others, including El Camino Hospital cardiologists, Halpin is putting his heartbreak aside to make waves in the California state legislature and calling for mandatory screenings of young adults.

On a mission to save lives with Halpin, Dr. Bing Liem of El Camino Hospital has been offering free community heart screenings/EKGs for young athletes and reports a 10 percent rate of abnormal EKG results, indicating a small, but life-saving, impact.

Such defects are the top cause of sudden death in sports, killing 1 of every 220,000 young athletes each year, according to previous studies.

Please note that future public heart screenings at El Camino Hospital are being planned for the summer. Check the events page of the Heart & Vascular Institute at for future dates.

About the Community Heart Screenings:
  • While most diseases affecting heart rhythm and its overall function impact older people, some affect young and otherwise healthy individuals who inherit genetic mutations (changes to the genes resulting in abnormalities/disorders of the heart).

  • Because young students are not familiar with heart symptoms, they are frequently unaware of mild presentations of underlying heart disorders.

  • It is not uncommon to have the first occurrence of such an inherited heart disease to be a serious event, commonly during a strenuous athletic activity.

  • Screening for most inherited heart rhythm and muscle diseases is simple and can be helpful in guiding the appropriate treatment and general recommendation.
About 56 percent of the 1,866 deaths among young athletes in the U.S. from 1980 to 2006 were due to undetected cardiovascular disease according to a study published by the American Heart Association
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