If you saw a young, fit and healthy person collapse, the last thing you might think is that their heart has stopped beating. Yet, in the UK, every year at least 620 young people aged 35 or under die suddenly from an undiagnosed cardiac condition.
As a GP, I have come across a number of these terrible stories that seem to come out of the blue. In fact, in around 80 per cent of young sudden cardiac death cases there are no prior symptoms.
Since we know that exercise is usually good for the heart, it’s alarming that it actually triggers many of the deaths. There have been several high-profile cases, such as the death of footballer Marc-Vivien Foe, 28, during a match in 2003 and the on-pitch collapse in 2012 of 23-year-old Bolton Wanderers star Fabrice Muamba – who, thankfully, was resuscitated.
One of the ways we could prevent some of these tragic deaths is by screening young people, particularly those involved in heavy exercise. A recent study found that as many as one in 260 footballers have a serious heart abnormality that needs ongoing monitoring. Although this sounds scarily high, almost three quarters of those diagnosed were able to return safely to playing competitively. A simple ECG, an electrical heart measurement test, picked up 86 per cent of those who were later diagnosed.
Cardiologist Professor Sanjay Sharma says: ‘Screening is key in identifying footballers at risk of cardiac conditions. Only a small percentage of them had any symptoms that would have raised alarm bells; the rest were picked up through the testing process.’
This isn’t just a concern for elite athletes, though. What about those who are normally active or sporty? The charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) screens more than 20,000 young people a year, for free. Prof Sharma says, ‘As far as the general population is concerned, the CRY screening programme suggests that one in 300 has a serious cardiac problem.’ This could be a mild condition, such as congenital abnormalities of the valves, or something more severe.
If a problem is detected, Prof Sharma says there is a lot that can be done. ‘This can range from lifestyle modification to drug treatments and internal cardioverter defibrillators. In some cases, we can do treatments for abnormal heart rhythms. Some are suitable for cardiac surgery.’
I believe screening is important for all active people between the ages of 14 and 35. In Italy, where screening is mandatory for all young people doing organised sport, sudden cardiac deaths have been reduced by 90 per cent. In a recent UK survey of 2,000 adults aged 18 to 34, more than two-thirds said they would like the opportunity to book a cardiac screening (with an ECG). And 60 per cent of parents of children aged 14 to 35 said they would actively encourage their children to be tested. I am with those parents on this one.
If there has been a sudden young death (under 35 years) in the family, relatives are entitled to NHS testing. For more on the CRY cardiac screening programme, see testmyheart.org.uk
A clever way to lighten up?
I am always interested in new health products and my curiosity was piqued reading about HumanCharger – earphones that provide bright light therapy. They claim to increase your energy levels, improve mood, boost mental alertness, reduce the effects of jet lag and keep the winter blues at bay by shining light into your ears.
Sounds like a load of nonsense? Bear with me, because there is research showing that a certain frequency of light shone into the ear can penetrate the skull and have a positive effect on us. And we know that bright light has an impact on our internal body clock.
That said, it is likely to be more effective – and cheaper, too – if you simply go outside in the morning or invest in a seasonal affective disorder lamp, which is proven to boost energy and motivation through the winter months.
From £175, humancharger.com
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