Playing video games may cause life-threatening arrhythmias in children with undiagnosed heart disease, a scientific report has found.
Investigators say they have found an uncommon but unique pattern among children who lost consciousness while playing video games.
They warn that Call of Duty-style multiplayer wargames are the most common trigger for such events.
In a report published in the journal Heart Rhythm, the scientists urged parents to take their children who suffered a power outage to see a heart specialist.
“Video games can pose serious risks to some children with arrhythmias; they can be fatal in patients with arrhythmias that are susceptible to arrhythmias that are often previously undetected,” said lead researcher and expert Dr. Claire M Lawley.
“Children who suddenly lose consciousness while playing video games should be evaluated by a heart specialist, as this may be the first sign of serious heart problems.”
She and her team conducted a systematic review of the literature and other studies to identify cases of children suddenly losing consciousness while playing video games.
In the 22 cases they found, multiplayer war games were the most common trigger — some children died after cardiac arrest.
Cardiac rhythm conditions including catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) and congenital long QT syndrome (LQTS) types 1 and 2 are the most common underlying causes.
The study also found a high rate (63 percent) of potentially related genetic variants among patients, which scientists warned had significant implications for their families.
In some cases, children’s loss of consciousness while playing games has resulted in many family members being diagnosed with significant familial heart rhythm problems.
“Families and medical teams should consider safety precautions for video games in children at risk for dangerously fast heart rhythms,” Dr Lawley said.
Scientists believe that video games are not always the “safe alternatives” to competitive sports they are often considered to be.
At the time of the cardiac event, many patients were in a state of excitement, had just won or lost a game, or were having a conflict with a partner, they said.
‘We were shocked’
“We already knew that some children had heart disease that could put them at risk when playing competitive sports, but we were shocked to find that some patients experienced life-threatening blackouts while playing video games,” co-investigator Christian Turner added.
“Video gaming is another ‘safety activity’ that I thought before. It’s a very important finding. We need to make sure everyone knows how important it is to check when someone has a coma event in this situation.”
While the phenomenon is uncommon, studies have found it is becoming more common.
“Having been caring for children with heart rhythm problems for more than 25 years, I was amazed at how widespread this emerging manifestation was, and found that many children even died of it,” said co-investigator Dr. Jonathan Skinner.
It added that those considered for esports competitions should be screened for potential conditions in the same way as traditional sports players.