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Doctors call for cardiac screening in the young

UK has 12 cardiac deaths a week in apparently healthy 14-35 year olds

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Doctors are today joining bereaved parents in calling for young people with signs and symptoms of possible cardiac problems to undergo careful testing, to cut the risk of sudden cardiac death in the young. But they also want cardiac screening for all young people, especially those involved in organised sport. They are particularly concerned about the number of deaths in the UK among apparently fit young people involved in ‘grassroots’ sports including rugby, football and athletics.

Charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) is today launching at the House of Commons a striking campaign to raise public awareness of the “sudden, spontaneous and shocking nature of cardiac death in young people”. The campaign includes a new film that shows a teenaged boy suddenly collapsing and dying on the rugby pitch in front of his friends and family, a situation that many families experience – in the UK, an average of 12 people aged under 35 die every week from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

CRY reports that in about 80-90% of these cases there were no signs, symptoms or warnings, and it says cardiac screening of 14-35 year olds has a vital role in identifying those at risk. However, it also wants to raise awareness of the importance of appropriate follow-up of unexplained symptoms such as fainting, blackouts and palpitations, rather than allowing them to be dismissed.

The charity points out that although sport does not cause sudden cardiac death in young people, intensive physical activity – particularly endurance sports such as rowing, rugby, football and long-distance running – can exacerbate an underlying condition.

CRY has found that about one in every 300 of the 15,000 under-35s it tests every year, as part of its national screening programme, carries a potentially life-threatening condition. The programme offers an electrocardiogram and, if necessary, a follow-up echocardiogram.

The charity’s director of screening Dr Steven Cox said: “It is essential that anyone with a potentially fatal heart condition knows about it and, if necessary, takes the appropriate steps to avoid putting their life at risk. This could include medical or surgical treatment or caution when taking part in some sports or when taking specific medications.”

He went on: “At CRY, we believe screening needs to be extended to all young people. Although screening will not identify all those at risk, in Italy, where screening is mandatory for all young people engaged in organised sport, the incidence of young sudden cardiac death has been reduced by around 90%.”

Virgin London Marathon medical director Professor Sanjay Sharma, professor of inherited cardiovascular disease and sports cardiology at St George’s Hospital London and Medical Director of the Virgin London Marathon, makes no charge for supervising the CRY screening programme – so each appointment only costs £35, rather than the £200-plus it would cost privately.

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