Data presented at the annual European Society of Cardiology Congress this week (held at London’s ExCeL) has highlighted the incidence of potentially fatal heart muscle disorders in “sporty” and physically active young people
Researchers funded by the charity, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) – one of Trinity’s longest standing associates – unveiled the results of a new study looking into the most common causes of sudden death in athletes whilst participating in sport.
The study – lead by Dr Gherardo Finocchiaro (based at CRY’s Centre for Inherited Cardiac Conditions and Sports Cardiology, St George’s London) brings new insight and evidence to the ongoing debate about proactive screening of elite athletes.
Dr Finocchiaro selected 357 cases of sudden death (from a cohort of 3684), all of whom had been engaged in regular (ie more than 3 hours a week), organised physical training. 70% of the cases analysed were competitive athletes. In 219 of the cases (61%) sudden death had occurred during exercise or exertion – with the two most common causes of these tragic incidents linked to the conditions ARVC (20%) and Left Ventricular fibrosis (39%). In particular, athletes with ARVC were 6 times more likely to die on exertion compared to those with other cardiac pathologies, with 29% experiencing sudden cardiac death on the athletic field.
Every week in the UK, 12 young (that is, aged 35 and under) apparently fit and healthy people die from a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Sport does not cause young sudden cardiac death, however, it will increase the risk by threefold if a person – who is pushing themselves to the limit physically – has an underlying condition they are unaware of.
80% of young sudden cardiac deaths will occur with no prior symptoms – which is why CRY believe screening is so vitally important. CRY now screens over 17,000 young people aged 14-35 every year and one in every 300 of these young people will be identified with a potentially life threatening condition. And in Italy, where screening is mandatory for all young people engaged in organised sport, they have reduced the incidence of young sudden cardiac death by 89%.”
Dr Steve Cox, CRY’s Director of Screening and Research, explained to us: “Most elite athletes will now undergo regular screening via by their club or governing body – whether routine or mandatory. However, this is still not happening at a grassroots level. The captain of a school rugby team may well be playing almost as many hours as his friend playing in the youth academy of a professional team but will not have equal access to expert screening and therefore, protection.
“But, by simply clicking onto www.testmyheart.org everyone – sporty or not – has the same opportunity to checked out.”
Dr Finocchiaro added; “Young sudden cardiac death, whatever the circumstance or the cause, has a catastrophic effect on families and entire communities. CRY research team is committed to improving the overall understanding of why these seemingly inexplicable deaths occur and ultimately, how they might be prevented. Research – underpinned by a widespread screening programme – holds the answer to identifying those people most at risk and will allow us to be able to develop robust, evidence-based advice for young people, especially those wishing to pursue sporting careers.”