The charitable organisation Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) have conducted pre-participation cardiovascular screening in a large number of highly trained British athletes, a majority of whom were potential members of the British squad preparing for the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012.
The CRY research fellows based at the department of cardiovascular sciences, St George’s University London have been heavily involved in these screening programs under the supervision of Professor Sanjay Sharma. The funding for this project was provided by Philips®.
Between October 2007 and March 2012, 1100 elite British athletes underwent cardiac screening. A vast majority of these athletes participated in sports that feature in Olympic and Paralympic events.
The screening program incorporated a health questionnaire, 12-lead electrocardiogram and transthoracic echocardiogram. Those with an abnormality were referred for further diagnostic evaluation or follow-up; the CRY Specialist Centre for Sports Cardiology and Inherited Cardiac Diseases at St George’s Hospital served as one of the referral centres.
The athletes diagnosed with ECG abnormality included 1 with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW) and 2 with prolonged QT interval. One athlete (participating in a sport not featuring in Olympics) was identified with dilated aortic root with bicuspid aortic valve and aortic regurgitation; he required cardiac surgery following which he has returned to competitive sports.
Echocardiogram identified 12 more athletes with valve abnormalities who will require follow-up; these included 6 with bicuspid aortic valve, 5 with mitral valve prolapse, and 2 with pulmonary stenosis. None of the athletes were diagnosed with a cardiomyopathy, however some require long-term regular follow-up.
The study shows that cardiovascular abnormalities in highly trained British athletes are rare; however cardiovascular screening can lead to early identification of important conditions which may potentially predispose an athlete to sudden cardiac death. Most athletes with minor cardiac abnormalities can be allowed to compete with close monitoring.
Dr Saqib Ghani MBBS, MRCP
CRY Research Fellow
Cardiovascular Sciences, St George’s University London