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

Jonathan A. Drezner*, Jessie Fudge, Kimberly G. Harmon, Stuart Berger, Robert M. Campbell, Victoria L. Vetter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)408-415
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Board of Family Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Cardiovascular abnormalities
  • Prevention
  • Retrospective study
  • Screening
  • Sports medicine
  • Sudden cardiac death

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Family Practice


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