Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Ronald Rios

By Ronald G. Rios
Middlesex County Freeholder Deputy Director
Chairperson, Committee of Public Health and Education

Recently, the news has been filled with stories of promising young athletes who, without warning, collapse on the playing field or during practice and later die from complications from a heart problem they never knew they had. These tragedies often are due to a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM.

HCM is a disease, usually inherited, in which the heart muscle begins to thicken. Over time this thickening makes it difficult for the heart to effectively pump blood and can cause dangerous abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias. These arrhythmias can lead to severe cardiac episodes and even death. Right now, HCM is the leading cause of heart-related sudden death in people under the age of 30.


The most effective way to reduce the number of deaths caused by HCM is to make sure that students, parents, coaches and all school professionals are aware of this silent killer and to help young athletes receive the medical testing and screening they need to rule out this potentially deadly condition before they run into problems on the field.

I’m glad to report that my Freeholder colleagues and I passed a resolution in support of pending New Jersey Assembly Bill A-2744 and resolution AR 84. Sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan and Assemblywomen Bonnie Watson Coleman and Elease Evans, A-2744 would require the State Department of Education (DOE) to develop an informational program about HCM and to provide this information to the parents and guardians of student athletes. Resolution AR 84 urges the DOE to improve staff and student preparedness for responding to incidents of sudden cardiac arrest.

I applaud the local school districts that already have begun screening programs for their athletes and band members. Awareness is key if we are to protect our young athletes and ensure that they remain happy and healthy both on and off the field.

In 2005, well ahead of the curve, Middlesex County put into place its Heart to Heart Program, through which the Board of Chosen Freeholders equipped every school in the County with an Automated External Defibrillator or AED. An AED is a device used to administer an electric shock through the chest wall to the heart. The device utilizes built-in computers to assess the patient’s heart rhythm, judge whether defibrillation is needed and then administer the shock. The use of an AED often strengthens the chance of survival in the case of a sudden cardiac arrest.

The defibrillators are especially helpful in HCM cases, because symptoms are not always present and immediate action is needed.

Many people with HCM have few if any symptoms, therefore, the first attack is often deadly. That is why it is so very important to identify this condition early on to provide treatment and prevent complications.

Some possible signs and symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy include:

* Shortness of breath, especially during exercise or exertion
* Chest pain, especially during exercise or exertion
* Fainting, especially during exercise or exertion
* Dizziness
* Fatigue
* Heart palpitations — the sensation of rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats

If you or someone you know are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult with a doctor. If there is a family history of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, please share this information with your doctor as well, since this may put you at an even higher risk for this condition.

If you have any questions regarding HCM or any health condition, please speak with your doctor or visit the Medline Plus web page at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/

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