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If you have arrhythmias like I do, and wear a Polar heart rate monitor partly because of them, you need to read this article from the Associated Press by Maria Cheng.
VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Cardiac problems like an abnormal
heartbeat are exacerbated by rigorous exercise in a way that can be
fatal in athletes, and regular testing for the problem could save
lives, doctors at a heart conference said Sunday.
Italy is the only country that mandates heart screening of all
its professional athletes, Dr. Domenico Corrado of the University
of Padua said at the European Society for Cardiology meeting in
Since 1981, Italian authorities have run heart checks on all
competing athletes. The incidence of sudden, fatal heart attacks
has dropped from four cases per 100,000 to 0.4 cases per 100,000.
Without testing, athletes genetically predisposed to having an
irregular heartbeat might not be aware of their condition until
it’s too late, doctors said. Adrenaline produced during exercise
may overstimulate the heart, causing it to essentially
“Sport acts as a trigger,” Corrado said in research presented
at the meeting.
Corrado said he had no ties to companies involved in screening
athletes. The research was funded by the Italian government.
Last week, Antonio Puerta became the latest high-profile soccer
player to die while competing.
After the 22-year-old Sevilla midfielder lost consciousness and
fell, doctors treated him on the field and he walked off, but then
had a heart attack in the locker room and another in the emergency
room of a Seville hospital.
He died three days later.
A day after Puerta’s death, former Zambia striker Chaswe Nsofwa
died minutes after collapsing on the field during a training
session with Israeli club Hapoel Beersheba. The 27-year-old Nsofwa
was given electric shocks and an external pacemaker but could not
be revived by paramedics.
On Aug. 24, 16-year-old Anton Reid of English League One team
Walsall died after collapsing on the field.
Because they have been exercising vigorously, many athletes who
collapse during competition do not have enough oxygen in their
bodies to allow the heart to start pumping again, even if a
defibrillator is used to try to restart their heart.
FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, deemed the risk of
irregular heartbeats to be so great that before last year’s World
Cup in Berlin, its medical committee demanded that all players
undergo heart scans. Following the recent deaths, FIFA said it was
considering expanding health checks.
“Athletes may have a silent but important heart disease that’s
not … manifest,” said Dr. Douglas Zipes, a cardiologist at
Indiana University School of Medicine. Though little data exist,
Zipes said that a genetic disorder may cause some athletes’ hearts
to get abnormally big when they train.
Corrado estimated that the cost of Italy’s heart screening
program is about $82 per athlete. Other countries are not convinced
that screening is worth the cost, given how few athletes are at
risk. Concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the
scan, which relies largely on echocardiograms, a test that shows if
the heart is pumping normally.
“As a screening test, it’s very imperfect,” said Dr. Gordon
Tomaselli, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University and
spokesman for the American Heart Association. “It can pick up many
of the things that cause sudden death, but not all of them.”
Doctors said that more awareness about the potential dangers is
key to preventing future deaths, though not all athletes with
suspicious tests will collapse on the field.
“Coaches should pay more attention to their players’
symptoms,” Zipes said. “If an athlete is complaining about chest
pains or shortness of breath, those are warning signs that should
not be ignored.”
Associated Press sports writer Chris Lehourites in London
contributed to this report.
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