Video games – and particularly war games – could be a potential trigger for lethal heart events in susceptible children, according to a new study. In children with various heart conditions predisposing them to cardiac arrhythmias, playing video games could raise blood pressure to the point at which an attack is more likely to occur in rare cases, suggesting a causal link between the two.
The study comes after previous reports of cardiac arrhythmias (an abnormal heart rhythm) during sessions of gaming in children and adolescents, though there were no studies prior. While high-risk activities are generally mentioned in counseling given to families with children that have heart conditions, video games are not. A new study by researchers from Canada and Australia sought to uncover whether there is a link.
The authors analyzed multiple cases of children and adolescents that had proven arrhythmias during gaming, including direct meetings with healthcare professionals and trawling through existing reports. Researchers identified 51 unique records, none of which were randomized controlled trials.
Out of the records, 22 individuals had proven arrhythmia events during electronic gaming. All were aged 7-16 and the vast majority (19/22) were male. Symptoms ranged from chest pain to life-threatening events, and four people died as a result of the gaming-linked arrhythmia. Of particular note was when the children were diagnosed with heart conditions – just seven of them had been diagnosed prior to the gaming event while 12 were diagnosed afterward, suggesting it can be a trigger of underlying conditions.
Eight of the patients were playing war games at the time, and of the seven that had data involving the stage of the game in which the heart event occurred, six of them had just won or lost, with one “jumping up and down in excitement.” The other was fighting with a sibling over the controller.
It is noted that the study is limited by the opt-in nature, meaning only case reports that are put forward to the study are considered, and adults have not yet been analyzed to see if the same link exists.
The authors now express that a history of syncope (fainting or passing out) in children during gaming should act as a warning sign for underlying heart conditions and be taken into account during clinical assessments. Subsequent tests should be performed in children with these traits in order to minimize the chance of lethal events.
The study was published in the journal Heart Rhythm.