Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sports Chest Protectors Don't Fully Protect Young Hearts

(HealthDay News) -- Commercial sports safety gear may not fully protect young athletes against sudden death caused by a blow to the chest, new research shows.

A blunt, non-penetrating blow to the chest can cause a potentially deadly irregular heartbeat called ventricular fibrillation. This kind of impact can occur during hard contact with another player in football or hockey, or when an athlete is hit by a baseball bat, hockey stick, puck, ball or other kind of projectile.

"The difference between a benign blow and commotio cordis is timing," study senior author Dr. Barry J. Maron, director of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, said in a prepared statement. "If the blow occurs directly over the heart at a particular time in the heart's cycle, the results can be catastrophic."

For this study, Maron and his colleagues analyzed 182 cases of fatal chest blows recorded in the United States since 1995. Of those, 85 (47 percent) occurred during practice or competition in organized sports, and 53 percent occurred during recreational sports or normal household activities.

The findings were expected to be presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, in Chicago.

The researchers found that of the 85 cases involving competitive athletes, 33 (39 percent) of the victims were wearing "potentially protective equipment."

The athletes, average age 15, included 14 hockey players (two goalies), 10 football players, six lacrosse players (three goalies), and three baseball players (all catchers).

In 23 of those 33 cases, the players' protective padding was not covering the chest at the time of the blow. In 10 cases, projectiles directly struck the chest protector.

"These athletes wore standard, commercially available chest barriers, made of polymer foam covered by fabric or a hard shell, generally perceived to provide protection from the consequences of chest blows," Maron noted.

He suggested that there needs to be more attention given to chest protection for young athletes.

More information
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about ventricular fibrillation.

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