Video games can precipitate life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias in susceptible children whose predisposition may have been previously unrecognized, says a new study.

The study authors, including lead author Claire M. Lawley from The Heart Centre for Children in Australia, documented an uncommon, but distinct pattern among children who lose consciousness while playing electronic (video) games.

“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,” said Lawley.

“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.”

For the study, the team performed a systematic review of the literature and initiated a multisite international outreach effort to identify cases of children with a sudden loss of consciousness while playing video games.

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Across the 22 cases they found, multiplayer war gaming was the most frequent trigger. Some children died following cardiac arrest.

Subsequent diagnoses of several heart rhythm conditions put the children at continuing risk. Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) and congenital long QT syndrome (LQTS) types 1 and 2 were the most common underlying causes.

There was a high incidence of potentially relevant genetic variants (63 percent) among the patients, which has significant implications for their families.

In some cases, investigating a child who lost consciousness during video gaming led to many family members being diagnosed with a critical familial heart rhythm problem.

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“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,” noted Lawley.

The investigators attributed adrenergic stimulation to the emotionally charged electronic gaming environment as the pathophysiological basis for this phenomenon.