Video games may trigger lethal heart problems in some children: Study

Melbourne: Playing video games may lead to life-threatening irregular heartbeat in susceptible children whose predisposition may have been previously unrecognised, according to a study.

The research, published recently in the journal Heart Rhythm, documents an uncommon, but distinct pattern among children who lose consciousness while playing video games.

“Video games may represent a serious risk to some children with arrhythmic conditions; they might be lethal in patients with predisposing, but often previously unrecognised arrhythmic conditions,” said study lead investigator Claire M. Lawley from The Heart Centre for Children, Australia.

“Children who suddenly lose consciousness while electronic gaming should be assessed by a heart specialist as this could be the first sign of a serious heart problem,” Lawley said.

The team reviewed research literature and carried out a multisite international outreach effort to identify cases of children with sudden loss of consciousness while playing video games.

Across the 22 cases they found, multiplayer war gaming was the most frequent trigger.

Some children died following a cardiac arrest, they said. Subsequent diagnoses of several heart rhythm conditions put the children at continuing risk, according to the researchers.

Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) and congenital long QT syndrome (LQTS) types 1 and 2 were the most common underlying causes. Both the conditions are characterised by an abnormal heart rhythm.

The researchers noted a high incidence of potentially relevant genetic variants (63 per cent) among the patients, which has significant implications for their families.

In some cases, the investigation of a child who lost consciousness during video gaming led to many family members being diagnosed with an important familial heart rhythm problem, they said.

Families and healthcare teams should think about safety precautions around electronic gaming in children who have a condition where dangerous fast heart rhythms are a risk,” Lawley said.

The researchers attributed adrenergic stimulation — of the nerves in body’s sympathetic nervous system — related to the emotionally charged electronic gaming environment behind this phenomenon.

At the time of the cardiac incidents, many of the patients were in excited states, having just won or lost games, or were engaging in conflict with companions, they said.

“We already know that some children have heart conditions that can put them at risk when playing competitive sports, but we were shocked to discover that some patients were having life-threatening blackouts during video gaming,” added study co-investigator Christian Turner, from The Heart Centre for Children.

“Video gaming was something I previously thought would be an alternative ‘safe activity’. This is a really important discovery,” Turner said.

The researchers noted that the need is to ensure everyone knows how important it is to get checked out when someone has had a blacking-out episode in these circumstances.

The study notes that while this phenomenon is not a common occurrence, it is becoming more prevalent.

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