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As student athletes head back to practice, Heart Hospital of Austin continues its tradition of offering free screenings for genetic heart conditions that can strike without warning.

The screenings, which include a 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG) and a limited two-dimensional echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), are provided for free to young athletes. The back-to-school screening occurred on August 4.

While most students’ tests are normal, early detection can be life-saving for young athletes who are diagnosed with a heart condition.

“We’ve screened roughly 7,000 hearts, and of those, only about two percent led to a heart disease diagnosis and subsequent treatment,” Dr. Suzanne Wetherold, a clinical cardiologist at Heart Hospital of Austin, said. “Fortunately, in some cases, students who are diagnosed with cardiac conditions can still participate in physical activity with some limitations.”

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a serious genetic heart condition in which the heart muscle thickens. It affects one in 500 student-athletes every year, often with no symptoms, and it is the leading cause of cardiac death in young athletes.

While HCM is relatively easy to detect through screening tests, it can be fatal if it is not diagnosed and treated. Undiagnosed heart conditions are often discovered too late, and the first symptom is cardiac arrest.

The non-invasive, painless screenings only take about five minutes.

Heart Hospital of Austin will host its next screening event in February.

KVUE recently interviewed Dr. Vivek Goswami, cardiologist at Heart Hospital of Austin, about the screenings.

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