Call for more heart screenings for people playing sport

17/04/12

One of Britain's top heart doctors says he thinks anyone playing sport regularly should be screened for heart defects.

At the moment only top flight athletes are forced to be tested.

Sanjay Sharma is a professor of cardiology at St George's Hospital in south London.

"We know that one in 300 young people in the United Kingdom harbour a condition that potentially could cause cardiac arrest," he said.

"People who exercise intensively are three times at greater risk than people who don't exercise. Everybody should be treated the same."

Sudden death

Cardiac Risk In The Young is a charity for young people who have heart conditions.

They hold screening events across the country where the test is performed for £35.

Usually they are booked up one week in advance but the charity says that since Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the football pitch they have been inundated with people wanting to be screened.

This is there is a considerable risk either of false positives, or of having heart problems that tests do not pick up
Department of Health statement

"If we look at sudden deaths or sudden cardiac arrests in young people we find that 40% occur in people under 18," said Sanjay.

"We can't just say this happens to the most elite."

The Department of Health said: "It's not recommended offering a national heart screening programme to young adults.

"There is a considerable risk either of false positives, or of having heart problems that tests do not pick up.

"This is kept under review and the committee will consider its advice again this year."

Sanjay says this should be paid for by parents.

"The government have enough problems with coronary artery disease and heart failure. I think this sort of thing should be self-funded by parents, or by athletes or their clubs."

Operation

Fabrice Muamba had been screened and no abnormalities showed up on his scan.

It wasn't the same story for 20-year-old James Doherty, who suffered a cardiac arrest.

They found that he had Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome, a condition where your heart can beat too fast.

"I was pretty much just trying to get out of lessons so it's pretty lucky that I did sign up," he said.

He is fine now but had to have surgery to fix his heart.

"It was pretty major," he said. "The first time the operation didn't work so I had to have it again.

"They tried some different things, I did it with local anaesthetic and I actually listened to my iPod while they were doing it. I had the Rocky soundtrack.

"I'm a Tottenham fan. As soon as I heard the game I knew what it was.

"To think that could have been me, obviously not in the Premier League but playing football was scary.

"I'm living proof that scans can work. It saved my life."