Heart screening project to save athletes from sudden cardiac death

27 July 2007

London, UK. UK charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) is launching a campaign to screen all leading athletes as part of a five-year study to understand the causes of sudden cardiac death in young people.

Every week 8 'apparently' fit and healthy young people die in the UK from undiagnosed heart conditions. Exercise is associated with a 10-fold increase in the incidence of heart problems, yet a simple cardiac scan followed by professional examination of the data can highlight symptoms that, if left unmanaged, can lead to sudden death in healthy young athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

The screening programme will be led by Professor Greg Whyte, Chairman of CRY and Professor of Applied Sport & Exercise Science at Liverpool John Moores University, who will work with consultant cardiologist Dr Sanjay Sharma Director of Heart Muscle Disease at King's College Hospital London.

In the first two years CRY will screen 1500 elite athletes using the latest cardiac imaging technology from Philips, at centres across the UK, including the Centre for Sports Cardiology at the Olympic Medical Institute, London.

Athlete having a heart ultrasound scan

Professor Whyte said: “The Save Our Athletes project will be world leading. Enabling CRY to research the role of cardiovascular screening, allowing us to fully identify disorders capable of causing sudden cardiac death.” He continues, “Everyone is potentially at risk and the only accurate means of diagnosis is through expert cardiovascular assessment. The next five years will be seminal to our understanding of which people are most vulnerable to sudden death during exercise.”

Launching the campaign are athletes from all over the UK, including Rob Hayles, three times Olympic medal holder (cycling) and Karen Pickering, Britain’s most decorated female swimmer. They will be amongst the first athletes to have their heart screened by CRY experts at The Waterfront Leisure Centre, London.

Sir Ian Botham OBE, President of the CRY for Sports Cardiology, said: “We want anyone who participates in sport to have heart screening, just as they do in Italy. The Save Our Athletes screening program is a giant step towards that, because of the empirical evidence it will provide. We must stop the terrible tragedies of young people involved in sport dying needlessly.”

Professional sports people know that to reach peak performance, they need to understand their body inside and out. For elite athletes in high profile sports, heart screening is a fundamental part of training, but due to the costs access is not universal. Athletes in sports with lower profiles, who represent our sporting future, are left vulnerable to sudden death syndrome.

Alison Cox, CRY Chief Executive and Founder of CRY said: “Today we work to support anyone and everyone affected by the circumstances of sudden death. The Save Our Athletes research will help us further our campaign for change, and reduce the terrible roll-call of tragedy of young sudden cardiac death."

The symptoms of heart conditions can be very deceptive, especially to people who have always been able to push themselves to the limit. Often people relate pains to over exertion, or a drop in power to ‘an off day’, but sometimes these are the body’s warning signs of heart conditions.

For anyone who has worries about their heart health, CRY has developed a Cardiac Checklist. To find out more visit:

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