Video games can trigger heart attacks in children with undiagnosed cardiac issues, a study has found.
Some children are born with an irregular heartbeat known as cardiac arrhythmia and may never know unless detected by a scan.
About two million people in the UK live with such a condition, and they can lead relatively normal lives. However, a flare-up can occur at any point and lead to severe consequences, such as loss of consciousness, cardiac arrest and potentially death.
These undiagnosed heart issues have previously been linked to sudden deaths of people playing sports, but now a link has also been seen for computer games.
Scientists said that the excitement, adrenaline and emotional investment can trigger the condition.
Research from the Heart Centre for Children in Sydney, Australia, looked at data from different studies and found the link.
Dr Claire Lawley, the study’s lead investigator, explained: “Video games may represent a serious risk to some children with arrhythmic conditions. They might be lethal in patients with predisposing, but often previously unrecognized 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 heart problem.”
The analysis identified 22 cases where video games triggered a loss of consciousness in children, with multi-player war games the most common game played at the time of the incident.
The researchers believed that the dormant underlying heart condition is triggered by the rush of adrenaline children get from the high-octane games they play.
At times of maximum emotional investment, such as after a win or loss, vulnerable children are particularly at risk of cardiac episodes, the researchers said.
Scientists now want any children who have a history of blacking out while gaming to get checked out for potential heart issues as it can be an early warning sign.
Christian Turner, the study’s co-author, said: “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.”
He added: “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.”
Dr Jonathan Skinner, the study’s co-author, said he was “staggered” to see how widespread the issue is and that it has led to some children dying.
“All of the collaborators are keen to publicize this phenomenon so our colleagues across the globe can recognize it and protect these children and their families,” he added.
The findings are published in the journal Heart Rhythm.