Electronic games may trigger potentially deadly heart arrhythmias

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

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Abnormalities in heart rhythm can range from a minor inconvenience or discomfort, but in severe cases can be potentially fatal, says the NHS. Complications can include stroke, sudden death and heart failure, following the formation of a blood clot inside the vein. A new report has highlighted the growing incidence of these disorders in children playing war gaming.

Heart rhythm disorders like arrhythmias occur when electrical signals that coordinate the heart’s beats don’t work properly, explains the Mayo Clinic.

This may feel like a “fluttering or racing heart and may be harmless”, says the healthy body, but it may also become bothersome.

Failure to treat the condition early could result in potentially deadly complications down the line, so understanding the signs and triggers is important.

Classic causes include viral illness, exercise, caffeinated drinks, some over-the-counter drinks and prescribed medicines, but now new findings suggest electronic gaming may also be a trigger.

The lead investigator of the latest study, Claire M Lawley, said: “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.

“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 health problem.

“Families and healthcare teams should think about safety precautions around electronic gaming in children who have a condition where dangerous fast heart rhythms are a risk.”

The new report, published in Heart Rhythm, is not the first to document the pattern among electronic gamers.

The findings reinforce previous research published in Mount Sinai, showing that intense famine could trigger irregular heartbeat and fainting in some players.

Researchers reported in 2019 that a handful of video gamers had passed out when intense sessions caused their heartbeat to lapse into an irregular rhythm known as an arrhythmia.

Ranjit Suri, MD, clinical professor of medicine and cardiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, put these effects down to an intense surge in adrenaline.

He said: “These cases show that video games could produce the same sort of adrenaline rush that can cause athletes and people under extreme duress to die when their hearts stop.

“You hear it said that he got so angry he died suddenly, he got so frightened he died suddenly. It’s in the same league. It’s just that now we recognise gaming can produce that kind of rush.”

For the latest meta-analysis, researchers set out to identify cases of children who lost consciousness while playing video games, and 22 were found.

Researchers noted that war gaming was the most frequent trigger, causing some children to die following cardiac arrest.

In some cases, children were subsequently diagnosed with several heart rhythm conditions, putting them at continuing risk of complications.

The study’s co-investigator, Christian Turner, from The Heart Centre for Children, Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, said: “We already know that some children have heart conditions that can put them at rest when playing competitive sports.

“But we were shocked to discover that some patients were having life-threatening blackouts during video gaming.

“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 the episode in these circumstances.”

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