Friday, April 07, 2006

Sudden Death Strikes Deep

It's with sadness that we learned of Maggie Dixon's death today. She died at the young age of 28 after an all-too-short career as Army's women's basketball coach. My prayers go out to their family. Tho' I don't know what happened, it is possible she had an occult weakness of her heart that caused a sudden rapid heart rhythm that took her life. I remain amazed at this complicated disease called Congestive Heart Failure, where the heart becomes weakened to the point where it cannot meet the body's need for blood flow to vital organs due to a weak (or "stiff") pump. It manifests SO differently from one patient to the next. I've seen a myriad of presentations of this disorder, some common, like a chronic cough, worse with lying down (often treated unsuccessfully with antibiotics), chronic stomach fullness or nausea that doesn't get better with antiacid medications, and yes, it can present at it's first blush as sudden death or cardiac arrest. These are not the typically-described side effects of exertional shortness of breath, leg or belly swelling (edema), but I see them often enough that they need to be mentioned. I've always wondered if a simple screening EKG on a school or college physicals might not catch a few folks with weak hearts or other congenital defects like Long QT syndrome (a group of genetic defects that cause a propensity for people to develop life-threatening heart rhythm disorders due to abnormalities in the electrical activation of the heart). We as doctors need to be smart enough to recognize and not ignore abnormal EKG findings (like what happened with Dr Helen). But if one life were saved, it might be worth it.

Whether man OR woman, think about getting an EKG with your next physical. It might be best thing you ever do.


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