Sudden death fear causing children to shun sport
PEOPLE with an inherited heart condition have a higher risk of sudden death while playing sport, but sport is not always linked to such deaths, according to cardiologists.
Too much emphasis has been put on the link between sport and sudden cardiac death, leaving children who are healthy at risk of shunning exercise and becoming obese.
Most sudden cardiac deaths in under 35-year-olds occur outside of a sports setting, said consultant cardiologists Deirdre Ward and David Mulcahy of Tallaght Hospital, Dublin.
They were speaking at the launch in Dublin yesterday of the first annual report from the National Centre for Cardiac Risk in Younger Persons, which offers free screening to people who may have an inherited condition.
High-profile deaths from sudden cardiac death include those of Tyrone GAA player Cormac McAnallen and rugby player John McCall.
The GAA and other sporting organisations now offer players the opportunity to complete a questionnaire to find out if they have symptoms which may put them at risk.
However, Dr Ward, who is director of the centre, said there is a need to refine the questions because they were picking up more people than actually have problems, leading to unnecessary anxiety.
"It is probably better than nothing and raises awareness but if you answer 'Yes' to one of their questions it does not mean you are at serious risk," she said.
"There is a need to add a physical examination and probably an ECG if you are to get any value out of the programme."
A spokesman for the GAA confirmed yesterday that the questionnaire would be revised and that new recommendations would be announced by its medical committee after the results of a study were evaluated.
The Tallaght centre was set up through public fundraising by Michael Greene, who founded the organisation CRY after his 15-year-old son died of sudden cardiac death.
In its first full year, it evaluated 1,380 patients to detect those at risk of sudden cardiac death, which claims the lives of around 60 people under the age of 35 every year. It offers screening to people who have possible symptoms or who have suffered a cardiac arrest, as well as their families.
"Almost a fifth of our patients were young people with no family history of cardiac disease or sudden death but who experienced worrying symptoms like unexplained blackouts, palpitations or chest discomfort," the report said.
One in two are confirmed as normal and given the all-clear. A definite cardiac problem was found in around 10pc but not all are at high risk. They may need to change their lifestyle by withdrawing from competitive sport or taking medication or in a minority of cases having a pacemaker-like device fitted.
"Sometimes, people need just medication, sometimes they modify their lifestyle and play less intensive sport and that is always very difficult for a young person to do -- you are trying to negotiate with them what difference it will make to their lives and enjoyment," said Dr Ward.
She said the growing availability of defibrillators in public places was showing results and two young people who had a cardiac arrest were saved by these machines recently.