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Calls For Urgent Review Of Cardiac Screening Policy Among Black Athletes

The eyes of the world’s media are on Britain this summer and on the thousands of elite athletes who are currently competing in the London 2012 Olympics, the most famous sporting event in history.

Despite the euphoria of medals won and record smashed, there has been growing awareness in the sporting world of the risks of young sudden cardiac death among elite athletes ever since the sudden collapse of Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba earlier this year.

It is widely understood that the heart can ‘change’ due to intense exercise – a phenomenon that is termed as ‘athlete’s heart’.  These changes are a key consideration for expert cardiologists when athletes are screened for underlying abnormalities.

Since 1993, researchers funded by the charity, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) have been studying the differences in the structure of athlete’s hearts and, more specifically, the hearts of black athletes.

CRY’s findings are becoming increasingly relevant in the light of the continued growth in the number of black athletes participating in competitive sports at national and international levels in both Europe and the USA, with a disproportionately higher rate in sports such as American Football and basketball and within England’s Premier League.

Alison Cox, Chief Executive of CRY, tells Trinity, “It is vital that, globally, cardiologists understand the fundamental differences between a ‘normal’ heart, an athlete’s heart and a black athlete’s heart and that these are taken on board when these individuals are being routinely screened, to avoid the risks of either misdiagnosis or of giving a ‘false positive’.”

Another consideration is that death rates from a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) that can cause young sudden cardiac death, are generally higher among black athletes – which underlines the importance of pre-participation cardiac testing.

In Italy, all athletes undergo a unique mandatory state-sponsored cardiovascular screening programme. Data from this 30 year model has shown a significant increase in identification of HCM and death rates from sudden cardiac death has fallen by 90%.

Alison Cox adds; “So, the more we can learn about the different ways that the size and appearance of the heart can change (based on factors such as ethnicity) then the more we will be able to ensure that we are making the right clinical decisions on an individual basis and correctly identifying those athletes – whatever their ethnicity – who may have a potentially fatal heart condition.”

CRY provides screening services for a number of professional sporting bodies including the English Institute of Sport, the RFU, RFL, LTA, a number of FA teams including Manchester City, and the vast majority of the Olympic Athletes (GB Rowing, GB Cycling, GB Swimming, GB Diving, UK Athletics).

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