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20 April 2014
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Dr Sharma

Inside story - Dr Sharma on cardiac risk

Sudden cardiac death

Eight young people a week are estimated to die from heart failure in England. Dr Sanjay Sharma, a consultant cardiologist from the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young, answers questions about sudden cardiac death in the young.

What should parents of young children do?

Parents need to make sure they are aware of these conditions and what can be done. 

Ignorance can be fatal.

Once their child is 14 CRY would recommend getting an ECG done.

This will identify the majority of conditions that can cause young sudden cardiac death and significantly reduce the chance of them experiencing a tragedy. 

Parents should contact CRY on 01737 363 222 or its website to find where their nearing screening centre is.

ECG's cost  £35. Appointments at a CRY ECG clinic can also be booked on line via the CRY website.

Should every 14 year old be screened or only those playing sport?

If you play sport then cardiac screening is more important. Sporty youngsters stress their hearts the most. 

Heart c/o BBC Science Photo Library

If they have an underlying cardiac abnormality they are more likely to be at risk.

Sport itself does not lead to cardiac arrest but it can act as a trigger for a young person to die suddenly, by exacerbating an undetected condition.

This is because the heart is more vulnerable to life threatening arrhythmias when it is stressed and athletes, compared to non-athletes, exert more stress upon their heart during training and competition.

Having said this, at CRY we prefer not to distinguish between athletes and non-athletes. We want all young people to involved in sport and have access to these tests.

What are the general warning signs that parents should look out for? 

The group of people considered at greatest risk are those who already have a family history of young sudden cardiac death.

All first degree relatives of victims of sudden cardiac death below the age of 40 years should be referred to a heart rhythm specialist. 

Another group at increased risk is people with potentially cardiac related symptoms. These include chest pain, breathlessness, fainting, dizziness, and palpitations.

My child is regularly playing sport - what facilities should his club have?

We would very much like for sports clubs to make their children and young adults aware of these conditions and how they can go about getting tested.

School sports

Keeping a check on vulnreable children.

This could be done by circulating leaflets to their athletes, having leaflets on show that identify where to get screened and putting a poster on the wall of their clubhouse or gym.

If you are a coach that is pushing your players to the limit you want to know that their body can handle the limits.

Do you think things will ever change in the UK?

Things are already changing in the UK. 

Guidelines published in 2005 have made doctors more aware of these conditions and willing to refer to specialists when there are warning signs.

David Walliams

Supporting CRY - David Walliams.

Philips and CRY have launched The Heart Screening Awareness Partnership, designed to help families understand the simple steps involved. 

Little Britain's David Walliams supported this launch by appearing in a short film designed to show young people that the screening process is not a scary one.

This can be viewed on the CRY website.

The latest research is continually being reviewed by policy makers. 

CRY is developing an expanding network of centres throughout the UK where any person between the age of 14 and 35 can be tested, whether they have symptoms (chest pain, palpitations, fainting or dizziness) or not.

How big are the risks?

Sudden death from a cardiac condition is considered rare.

However, they are more common than other causes of death in young people which most people are aware of (i.e. childhood leukaemia, cystic fibrosis).

The greatest risk is to those people who have not been tested or are unaware that they have a condition.

Once a condition is identified, risk stratification is evaluated, with treatment options varying depending on level of risk.

These options significantly reduce the chance of an event occurring and sometimes the condition is even cured.

At one extreme, a patient may only require ongoing monitoring of their condition or minor lifestyle changes.

At the other extreme, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) may be required.

The ICD is a battery-powered device that has significantly improved the chances of survival in individuals at high risk of Sudden Cardiac Death.

last updated: 09/10/2008 at 11:28
created: 01/10/2008

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