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UH professor links sports chest injury with fatal heart condition

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A University of Hawaii medical professor and pediatric cardiologist has for the first time linked chest injuries with a potentially fatal heart condition — a discovery he hopes will help improve safety for contact sports.

The finding stems from the case of a 16-year-old Oahu football player who was admitted to Kapiolani Medical Center last year after being hit in the chest at practice.

“The finding of this case report is that a blunt injury to the chest can cause this abnormal heart rhythm,” which can lead to blood clots and stroke, said Dr. Andras Bratincsak, a clinical professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and a pediatric cardiologist at Kapiolani Medical Center.

Existing medical research has linked hard hits to the chest with sudden cardiac arrest, but Bratincsak’s discovery deals with the potentially lethal affect on the upper chamber of the heart.

His findings will be published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. JABSOM medical 

student Kyle Ota is a co-author.

While the football player survived, Bratincsak said the case emphasizes the importance of diagnosing an abnormal heartbeat early to prevent complications. Symptoms include heart palpitations, or rapid heartbeat; chest pain; and light-headedness.

He said athletes should be protecting not only their heads, but their chests as well.

“I think this might increase the awareness of potential complications in sports events (such as) baseball, football, mostly, maybe also soccer, martial arts, where there can be a blunt chest trauma,” he said. “It doesn’t cause an immediate collapse on the field, but it can cause fatal consequences, including stroke, as long as four days afterward.”

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