It is well known in the world of professional athletics that athletes who have underlying heart disorders run the risk of developing cardiac arrhythmias, which are dangerous irregular heartbeats.
These conditions are tested for in numerous sports, and in some situations, people who are found to have them are disqualified from competing.
Researchers are now cautioning that playing computer games, whether competitively or for fun, by young individuals with underlying problems may carry similar risks.
According to a study published in the journal Heart Rhythm, playing video games poses a “severe risk” for kids who have underlying medical issues and may even be fatal.
They conducted a thorough assessment of papers and medical literature to identify instances of kids who had unexpectedly lost consciousness while using computers.
A major cardiac episode may be preceded by, or even occur simultaneously with, loss of consciousness.
According to the researchers, the emotionally charged environment of electronic gaming is what causes the adrenergic stimulation that is the basis for this occurrence. In other words, the neurological system of the body experiences overstimulation.
Multiplayer war games were the most frequent cause of this loss of consciousness among the 22 cases they discovered.
Four of the 22 cases involved abrupt death, and medical occurrences heart palpitations, fainting followed by regaining consciousness, heart attacks, and chest pains were also mentioned in the reports.
Some of the children were later diagnosed with heart rhythm disorders.
“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,” explained lead investigator Claire Lawley, from The Heart Centre for Children at Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network in 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”.
Video games no longer a safe alternative?
The study’s authors caution that computer games may not be the safe alternative to physical activities that they were previously assumed to be for youngsters with underlying cardiac issues.
“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,” said co-investigator Christian Turner, also 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. 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”.
In a related editorial published in the Heart Rhythm journal, the authors highlight that over the past 20 years, there has been a “remarkable growth in electronic gaming,” with the worldwide eSports market being valued at $1.38 billion (€1.42 billion).
While many video games are categorized as “sedentary” activities as opposed to “active” activities like exercise, they claim that this distinction is complicated because some games designed to be played while seated, like first-person shooters, have been shown to raise heart rates in adults to an average of 80 bpm above baseline.
They argue that elite level gamers should be included in future screening programs targeted at identifying athletes at risk of deadly irregular heartbeats given that big events are held in packed arenas with spectators, commentators, and coordinated light and pyrotechnic displays.
“We agree that guidance on playing war games or other eSports should be given to parents with a child who has a known proarrhythmic condition, especially those conditions that are inducible by stress or exercise,” they wrote.
“Although the appropriateness of such screening programs is outside the scope of this study, it certainly suggests that eSports competitors should be treated similar to traditional athletes with respect to sudden death risk stratification”.
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