- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

CHICAGO (AP) — Beth Meter is a cardiac nurse who has seen plenty of heart attacks, so when her son complained of sudden crushing chest pain that spread to his arm, she was certain he was having one.

Doctors at first didn’t believe her. That’s because her son had just turned 13.

A report from Ohio doctors documenting nine cases over 11 years in children as young as 12 said heart attacks in children are a rare but under-recognized problem.

For Mrs. Meter’s son, Dan, it took a month to see a specialist who confirmed the diagnosis. A year and a half later, the Strongsville, Ohio, teen is on heart medicine but doing well.

“Pediatricians need to understand that this is a true and real condition,” Mrs. Meter said. “Don’t just push aside any kid that’s complaining of chest pain.”

Dan was among children included in a report by Drs. John Lane and Giora Ben-Shachar at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio. All were stricken between 1995 and 2006 and most were treated at the Akron hospital. Dr. Lane treated a few of the earlier patients when he was at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

All lacked common risk factors for heart problems, such as obesity, family history, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and drug abuse.

The cause of their heart attacks was most likely a heart spasm that briefly cut off blood supply, Dr. Lane said. It is also a rare cause of heart attacks in adults.

All but one of Dr. Lane’s patients were boys. Doctors are uncertain whether girls face a lower risk because there is little in medical literature about this type of heart attack.

Dr. Lane called it “an under-appreciated phenomenon.” His report appears in October’s issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

Chest pain is a common symptom in children, but 95 percent of the time, it’s not heart-related and rarely life-threatening, said Dr. Reginald Washington, a Denver children’s heart specialist.

Muscle strains and stress are among common causes of children’s chest pain. Most heart-related chest pain in children is caused by infections, structural abnormalities or problems other than heart attacks, Dr. Washington said.

He said the Akron doctors’ report “does a good job of telling physicians” that they shouldn’t dismiss heart attack as a risk in children.

Dan said the pain hit him during seventh-grade social studies class in March 2006. A teacher noticed he looked pale, and Dan figured it was a stretched muscle. He didn’t tell his mother at first.

“I didn’t think that could happen to a kid,” said Dan, now 14 and in ninth grade.

His mother took him to a doctor the next day, then to a hospital, where the pain returned and spread to his arm. Staffers there dismissed her concerns about a heart attack.

Dan was hospitalized for two days. Despite abnormal blood tests and imaging tests, he was told he likely had a heart infection and was sent home. His pediatrician ultimately told him to see Dr. Lane.

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