Electronic gaming can trigger heart problems in some children: Study

Video games may not be the safe alternative to competitive or high-risk sports for children who have or are susceptible to cardiac arrhythmia

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Playing video games can potentially threaten the lives of children who are predisposed to cardiac arrhythmias, says an new international study, believed to be the first research into sudden deaths that occur during electronic gaming.

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The study, published in the journal Heart Rhythm, documented an uncommon, but distinct, pattern among children who lost consciousness while playing electronic games, including console- or computer-based games and arcade games.

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Out of 22 children who experienced a cardiac incident while playing video games, seven had a previous cardiac diagnosis, while 12 were diagnosed with a cardiac condition afterwards. A diagnosis has not been made in the remaining three patients.

Of the 22, six kids went into cardiac arrest. Four died. Their ages ranged from seven to 16.

The study came about after the small and tight-knit international community of experts in inherited heart rhythm problems started noticing cases where patients went into cardiac incident while playing video games, said Dr. Shubhayan Sanatani, one of the study’s authors and head of cardiology at B.C. Children’s Hospital.

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An international study involving about a dozen centres around the world was launched, drawing from their own cases plus another four identified from a systematic literature review.

“Given the large number of centres approached for cases across the world, it is clear that this phenomenon is uncommon, but it is clearly prevalent internationally and may represent a meaningful issue in children with arrhythmic conditions,” said the study.

Sanatani cautioned against over-interpreting the findings, given the small sample size.

“But I do think it’s an interesting signal,” one that should make physicians consider whether to counsel patients about the possible stress presented by video games for susceptible patients.

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Sanatani said he would now have a conversation with patients and families about safety precautions around electronic gaming.

According to the study, out of the 13 cases where researchers had information on the type of game being played at the time of the cardiac incident, eight were playing a war game.

Out of the seven cases where researchers knew the stage of play, in six the players had just won or lost, while one was fighting with a sibling for the electronic game controller at the time of the event.

The finding is an indication video games may not be a safe alternative to competitive or high-risk physical sports for children with heart conditions, said one expert.

“Video gaming was something I previously thought would be an alternative ‘safe activity’,” study author Christian Turner, of the Heart Centre for Children in Sydney, said in a statement.

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“This is a really important discovery. We need to ensure everyone knows how important it is to get checked out when someone has had a blacking-out episode in these circumstances.”

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