Efforts made to keep heart problems away from London 2012

26 July 2012

Efforts are being made to ensure that heart problems do not cause a black cloud to fall over the upcoming Olympic Games.

The countdown to London 2012 has just about reached its conclusion, with athletes from across the world set to descend on the UK's capital city to try and impress on one of sport's grandest stages.

However, medical experts are doing all that they can in order to make sure that this year's Olympics are remembered for the right reasons, and not because of tales of tragedy.

Dr Sanjay Sharma knows all too well how an event which is seen to be a celebration of athleticism can end up ushered in grief and sorrow.

The medical professional from St George's Hospital was the medical director for the London Marathon back in May – one of the capital's most highly-anticipated annual sporting events.

During the race, 30-year-old fitness fanatic Claire Squires collapsed when less than a mile from the finishing line of the 26-mile race. Dr Sharma rushed to the scene and tried in vain to save Ms Squires, who turned out to have suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.

Two months later, Dr Sharma is the head of the cardiology team for the 2012 Olympics and, along with his team of medical professionals, is determined to not see a repeat incident in the weeks ahead.

In order to fulfil his task, the St George's Hospital doctor and his colleagues have screened the entire British Olympic squad in an attempt to diagnose any underlying cardiac conditions which could develop into something more serious during high-intensity sporting events.

Dr Sharma explained to heartwire: "We had to screen 32 different squads from various sporting disciplines ranging from athletics to rowing, many of which contained individuals not necessarily going to make the final team. The aim was to identify conditions that could potentially cause sudden cardiac death in an individual."

Most football fans will definitely be able to relate to a sudden cardiac arrest, due to the shocking scenes which occurred at Tottenham Hotspur's ground White Hart Lane involving Fabrice Muamba back in March.

The Bolton Wanderers midfielder had seemed in good form and good health heading into the FA Cup tie, but things took a turn for the worse when he suddenly collapsed on the pitch.

It was later revealed that Muamba had also suffered a sudden cardiac arrest but was able to recover due to the heroic quick instincts of Dr Andrew Deaner and medical experts based at the London Chest Hospital.

Commenting during his recovery process in April, Muamba told The Sun: "I've had lots of tests but it's still not clear exactly what caused my collapse and perhaps we'll never know.

"It may never happen again and I now have to take each day as it comes and appreciate every single moment of the life God has given me as a wonderful gift."

With these shocking stories of the past few months, the International Olympic Committee has encouraged all countries to screen their athletes for any unknown health issues. However, this is not a mandatory request.

As such, while medical groups in Italy do not allow any athletes to compete in even minor sports unless first being subject to a family history check, a physical examination and a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG), both the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have discouraged the use of a ECG for cardiovascular screening of athletes at any level.

Meanwhile, neither the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation nor the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine has screening recommendations in place.

Despite this though, Dr Robert McCormack, the medical director for the Canadian Olympic team, would welcome 12-lead ECG strategies for athletes.

"Nothing has been decided yet, but I think there is a feeling that we need to develop some guidelines for better cardiac screening than simply taking a family history along with a physical exam," he stated. "It's too imprecise - it would miss a vast majority of individuals at risk for sudden cardiac death."

Despite all of the concerns though, Dr Sharma is confident that enough has been done to ensure that London 2012 will be uneventful from a cardiology point of view.

"I'm not expecting any catastrophes," he underlined.

Posted by Philip Briggs


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