Sports stars 'could be at greater risk' from hidden heart problems
13:36 GMT, 19 March 2012
Premiership footballer Fabrice Muamba's dramatic collapse during a game highlights the danger of hidden heart defects among young people, a heart charity has warned.
Mr Muamba, 23, remains critically ill in intensive care after he had a sudden heart attack during an FA cup match last Saturday.
What shocked the nation was until the point Mr Muamba crumpled to the ground he had been viewed as one of Bolton's fittest players.
Critical: Fabrice Muamba's heart stopped beating for two hours after he collapsed during a football match on Saturday
But his case is not unique, according to the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY).
Every week in the UK, 12 apparently fit and healthy young people, under the age of 35, die from undiagnosed cardiac conditions.
The defect is usually due to an inherited condition rather than a general lack of fitness.
Indeed sport stars may be at greater risk because intense activity can significantly increase a person's risk of heart attack if they have a heart abnormality.
Research has suggested people are twice as
likely to suffer a cardiac arrest if they play sport at a high level.
Dr Steve Cox, Cardiac Risk in the Young Dr Steve Cox, director of screening at CRY, said Mr Muamba's case highlighted the need for regular screening.
'CRY wants all young people to be aware of the importance of cardiac screening and to have the opportunity to be tested,' he said.
'We already provide screening services for a number of professional sporting bodies, including the English Institute of Sport, the RFU, RFL, LTA and a number of FA teams including Manchester City.
'One in every 300 of the young people that CRY tests will be identified with a potentially life-threatening condition.'
The most common inherited heart condition is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It is not yet know what condition has affected Fabrice Muamba
Dr Cox said screening is so important because often the first symptom of a cardiac condition is sudden death.
'Every week in the UK, 12 apparently fit and healthy young people, under the age of 35, die from undiagnosed cardiac conditions. Eighty per cent of these deaths will occur with no prior symptoms,' he said.
However, regular bouts of fainting or a family history of unexplained deaths are both symptoms to look out for.
Sudden death in younger people is usually from inherited heart conditions. The most common of these is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), which is when the heart muscle becomes excessively thick. This makes the organ vulnerable to some dangerous and potentially fatal heart rhythms.
Other disorders of the heart include myocarditis, which causes inflammation of the heart muscle and Long QT syndrome, which affects the sodium, potassium and
calcium channels in the heart needed to control the electric current in the cells.
Most heart abnormalities can be diagnosed with an an electrocardiogram, which looks at the electrical conduction pathways around the heart. This test is painless, non-invasive and takes a few minutes
to perform. It can be confirmed with an an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart.)
Professor John Somauroo who is one of
the cardiologists working with CRY to screen athletes pointed out all
sporting young people in Italy are required by law to undergo annual
check-ups, unlike those in the UK.
'This has led to a dramatic reduction in deaths from HCM, the main cause of sudden cardiac death and other conditions,' he said.
However, screening does not guarantee that all abnormalities will be picked up as some can wax and wane. This could explain why Mr Muamba's condition was not picked up during his four reported screenings over his footballing career – the most recent of which was performed last summer.
Nonetheless the entire Tottenham squad has asked to be tested for potential heart defects after watching Mr Muamba's fight for life on Saturday.
Meanwhile CRY will continue to campaign for screenings to be extended with the support of their celebrity patrons including popstar Pixie Lott.
Pixie Lott, who performed at a carol concert for the charity last year said: 'It’s crazy that a seemingly fit and young person can just drop down dead.
'I feel it’s important to raise awareness and will be using my new role to spread the word.'
For more information visit www.c-r-y.org.uk/index.htm