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New Research Shows Sudden Cardiac Death In Elite Footballers Is Higher Than Anticipated

As has been widely reported across the media this week, new research carried out by researchers funded by the charity, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) in collaboration with The FA analysed over 11,000 players (aged 16-17) who had undergone heart screening as part of regular medicals from Academy levels onwards.

Lead author of the research, Dr Aneil Malhotra from St George’s University of London, explains: “Of this cohort, one in 266 (42 players) were diagnosed with a condition associated with young sudden cardiac death, such as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, Long QT syndrome or ARVC.

“Reassuringly, of this group, almost three quarters (74%) were able to return to play later – following either corrective surgery or risk stratification, showing that a diagnosis during screening does not have to mean the end of a sporting career.

“However, tragically, two of those diagnosed with HCM who were advised against competitive sport died later, during exercise, highlighting how serious these conditions can be.

The research was overseen by CRY’s Cardiologist at Professor Sanjay Sharma. He adds;

This research shows that screening is key in identifying footballers at risk of cardiac conditions. Only a small percentage of them had any symptoms which would have raised alarm bells, the rest were picked up through the testing process.

 “It was led to our new understanding that sudden deaths in footballers are more common than previously believed, and, despite screening, cardiac conditions are still the leading cause of death in footballers. The most important finding in this paper is the necessity for those athletes who are pushing their bodies to their limits every day, to be tested regularly, through to early adulthood, to pick up those conditions which may develop after the teenage years.”

Researchers now believe that serial evaluation of footballers will help shed light onto the issue of if – and when – a potentially fatal cardiomyopathy may manifest.

And, The FA recommendations of ECG testing at 18, 20 and 25 years of age (which were influenced by the findings of this research), following a mandatory ECG and Echo test at 16 years, will provide data to help investigate this.

Every week, 12 apparently fit and healthy young (aged 35 and under) people in the UK die suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition. In 80% of cases there will have been no signs or symptoms, which is why CRY believes proactive cardiac screening is so vitally important.

Sport itself does not cause young sudden cardiac death but it can significantly exacerbate an underlying condition. Although screening will not identify all those at risk, in Italy, where screening is mandatory for all young people playing organised sport, the incidence of young sudden cardiac death has been reduced by 90%.”

CRY now tests around 27,000 young people each and over 170,000 since the screening programme was launched in 1995. CRY encourages EVERYONE between the ages of 14-35 (regardless of their involvement in sport) to visit to book in for a CRY screening

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