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Could Your Young Athlete Need a Heart Screening after COVID-19?

Parents of youth athletes have a lot on their minds. “Have they eaten? Did I wash their uniform? What time is practice? Tie your shoes!” In case that wasn’t enough, 2020 has added yet another factor for parents to consider in their efforts to ensure their kid is safe and successful in their favorite sport.

COVID-19 and Myocarditis

Recent news from college sports and throughout the medical community has tied COVID-19 patients to a heart condition called myocarditis. We spoke with Deepa Prasad, MD, a pediatric cardiologist with Banner Children's, about what that could mean for young athletes returning to sports. “After COVID-19 infection, inflammation has been found in organs like the heart. This is more common in moderate to severe cases but can also be found in mild cases as per recent reports,” said Dr. Prasad. “Although the inflammation tends to dissipate within a few weeks of recovery from COVID-19, myocarditis can be dangerous for these young athletes.” If your child was sick with COVID-19 for three or more days, this could apply to you.

Thankfully, severe cases of COVID-19 are rare for children. But Dr. Prasad explained that the majority of children hospitalized with COVID-19 experience myocarditis and decreased heart function. The most confusing part for parents and kids might be that even after your child stops showing symptoms of COVID-19, myocarditis may continue to put them at risk.

How to Know If Your Child Has Myocarditis

Several tests can be used to see if your child has myocarditis. Echocardiograms use sound waves to produce images of the heart to check heart function and structure. Another test doctors may recommend is an electrocardiogram, which is used to evaluate the rhythm of your heartbeats. These tests can be combined with a blood test for greater certainty. In some cases, an exercise stress test, also known as a treadmill test, can assess how well your heart can cope with exercise. Finally, an MRI could be prescribed to get an accurate visual of the inflammation or to see if scar tissue is left after the inflammation is gone.

There are symptoms of myocarditis, but they may be hard to notice in your child without these tests. Work with your doctor to see if any tests are needed.

What Are the Symptoms of Myocarditis?

Myocarditis can get in the way of the heart’s rhythm, increasing the likelihood of an arrhythmia and other heart issues. “The risks are intensified by strenuous exercise,” said Dr. Prasad. Watch out for these symptoms to know if your child has strapped on their shin guards too soon.

  • Heart racing
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Passing out
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive fatigue

Getting Back on the Field

They’re restless and so are you! If your child has recovered from COVID-19, they are probably itching to get back to their favorite sport.

If your child tested positive for COVID-19, they should be cleared for sports participation by their primary care physician. If your child was asymptomatic or only showed mild symptoms, the good news is that they could be ready to get back to practice 14 days after recovery. But, even after the 14 days, coaches and parents should be sure to ease kids back into full activity. Watch for the above symptoms and take it slow. Testing may not be necessary for these cases, but this is best determined by the primary care physician.

If your child had more than mild symptoms, Dr. Prasad warned against rejoining their team right away. She recommended that parents wait 3-6 months before returning to full activity in cases where myocarditis and scarring is present. They can be cleared by the primary care physician in collaboration with a cardiologist after all the tests come back normal.

Is your child about to start or return to sports? Schedule a pre-participation physical to get screened and be sure they are ready. Whether you’re strapping on their helmet and pads or ensuring a healthy recovery, safety is the top priority for your kiddo.

COVID-19 Heart Health Children's Health Sports Medicine