SOMERVILLE, NJ - Young athletes aspire to be like their heroes, dreaming someday of achieving a level of greatness worthy of headlines and multi-million dollar salaries.
But it’s not enough to emulate their heroes’ exploits on the field, the court, the rink or the diamond.
Like their heroes, they need to check in with a doctor.
Free cardiac and concussion screenings for young athletes will be held Saturday, Feb. 6, from 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, 110 Rehill Ave.
“We look for variety of things during the screening,” said Dr. Steven Georgeson, a cardiologist at RWJUH-Somerset
“If there is a small chance we find something, we make a difference in someone’s life; we can prevent something bad happening to an athlete,” he added.
The cardiac screening is targeted for athletes ages 14 to 18. The screening will look for major abnormalities known to cause sudden cardiac death, which affects an average of 1 in 100,000 student athletes nationwide each year.
RWJUH-Somerset cardiologists, nurses and technicians will conduct the evaluation, which includes a cardiovascular history and physical exam; blood pressure screening; body metrics; an electrocardiogram; and an echocardiogram, if indicated. Results will be given to students to share with their personal physicians.
“Young athletes have an increased risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) compared to their non-athlete peers. The combination of physical exercise and an underlying heart disorder in an athlete can trigger cardiac arrest,” Georgeson said.
Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is caused by ventricular fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm from the lower chambers of the heart) and is almost always fatal. Sudden cardiac death does occur in athletes.
“To become an elite athlete, these young men and women go through rigorous training routines and that can change the structure of the heart so that portions of the heart wall thicken,” Georgeson said. “It’s a consequence of working out.”
An ImPACT baseline concussion test will also be offered for ages 11 to 18. This test is a noninvasive computerized exam that provides useful information for evaluation and rehabilitation of the young athlete in the event of a future concussion.
The number of concussions in high school sports has doubled in the past five years. Students in sports such as football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, baseball and softball were most at risk, studies show.
“If a young athlete has suffered a head injury, the baseline results from the ImPACT screening test can help to evaluate the severity of the injury as well as help to determine what type of treatment is required if needed so athletes can return safely to play,” said Steve Weintraub, DO, of RWJ Physician Enterprise’s Sports Medicine New Jersey.
The National Football League has established a series of protocols that require a player to stay on the sidelines and undergo immediate testing after suffering a severe hit. Such incidents are occurring more frequently, with some players fined and suspended from play for causing those head injuries.
“It is a violent sport, and there will be injuries,” said Weintraub. “The hope is that if the game is played right, that the athletes are properly coached, the injuries will be minimal.” Weintraub added.
The screenings also provide other benefits for the young athletes and their parents, according to Georgeson.
“We find a lot of them are obese and suffer from hypertension and high blood pressure when we are screening them,” said. "These are young athletes who probably won’t see a doctor again until they apply for job in their 20s or 30s,” he added. “It’s an opportunity to show this to kids and parents and to have them take care of those issues with a follow-up to their doctor.
“We’ll tell them, ‘you have to start working on your weight,’” Georgeson added. “The kids are getting some education, so that they can avoid things like diabetes.”
Neither doctor has had to tell a young athlete that their career was over.
“We haven’t had to say ‘you have to stop playing right now.’” Georgeson said.
But they do offer advice, warnings and recommendations.
“It is important for the younger people to listen and educate themselves and realize what they are greting into,” Weintraub said.
The cardiology department at RWJUH-Somerset has been screening local high school athletes since 2009 and has screened more than 800 students. A parent or guardian must accompany each student.
Appointments are required. To register or for more information, call 908-685-0414 or visit the website at www.rwjuh.edu/athletescreening.
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) is a 965-bed academic medical center with campuses in New Brunswick and Somerville, NJ. Its Centers of Excellence include cardiovascular care from minimally invasive heart surgery to transplantation, cancer care, stroke care, neuroscience, joint replacement, and women’s and children’s care including The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (www.bmsch.org).