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Large population studies have shown that the incidence of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in young individuals (those aged between 14-35) is 2-3 x higher than in the aged match general population. Pathology post mortem studies have shown that majority of SCD is due to sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS). This is the term given when there was a structurally normal heart seen at postmortem. There are other causes of SCD which include structural snd electrical changes. Some of these electrical changes can be seen on a heart trace (this is called an 'electrocardiogram' or ECG) and some of the structural changes can be seen on a heart ultrasound scan (this is called an 'echocardiogram' or echo). A large UK study published in 2018 has shown that cardiac screening can detect conditions that are associated with sudden cardiac death in 1 in 260 individuals. This is a much higher incidence than previously estimated.
Sports Heart Screen: What's involved & Cost
Heart screens are recommended for competitive sports participants in European and American guidelines. Screens are designed identify possible electrical and structural heart changes that may put individuals at risk.
A basic screen involves a heart health questionnaire, examination and electrocardiogram ('ECG'- heart trace). In an advanced screen there is the addition of a heart ultrasound scan (this is called an 'echocardiogram'). The approximate costs for a basic screen is from £100 and an advanced screen is from £300.
The major cause of mortality in sports participants aged >35 years is coronary artery disease. Coronary disease is more prevalent if you have risk factors for coronary disease (such as smoking, having diabetes, having high blood pressure, having high cholesterol, or a family history of heart attacks). Exercise stress tests and heart monitoring can also help to assess patients depending on their history.
Those with symptoms
We undertake individualised assessments to those who have symptoms (e.g. breathlessness; chest pain; palpitations; dizzy spells; faints or near faints) and offer consultant led review and investigation pathways to assess the heart and help to diagnose underlying cardiac abnormalities.The initial step would be a clinical consultant led consultation where a history can be taken, symptoms assessed and examination undertaken prior to formulating a management plan.
What is 'athlete's heart'?
The term 'athletes heart' is given to structural and electrical changes that can occur to the heart in response to long term sports participation. Athletic training regimes often exceed ‘normal’ physical limits and if continued, cardiac adaptation to exercise can occur in athletes. These changes in part vary with sporting discipline, gender, age and ethnicity. These cardiac changes seen in athletes (called ‘Athletes Heart’) can sometimes mimic mild forms of cardiac disease. It is therefore important that cardiac screens in athletes / sports participants are carried out by doctors who have experience in sports cardiology.