At least 10 percent of top-level sportspeople in the Czech Republic suffer from a potentially life-threatening heart condition, suggests a new survey carried out by Prague’s Centre for Clinical and Experimental Medicine. A team of experts from the Department of Preventive Cardiology screened a group of young, mostly male athletes to discover that many of those who appear to be perfectly healthy have a serious underlying health issue.
The sight of young athletes, especially footballers, dying or collapsing on the field during a game as a result of an undiagnosed heart problem has become far too common in recent years. The cause is very often the same: too much physical strain or an untreated flu. What would be a minor complication for most people can be fatal in the case of top-level sportspeople.
To tackle the problem of an increasing number of sudden deaths among young professional sportsmen, the Centre for Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague carried out a survey among those who are most at risk.
The results of a screening test undertaken by 98 top-level sportsmen between the ages of 18 and 37 years are pretty alarming: 10 percent of those screened revealed a congenital defect of the heart valve and 13 percent a malfunctioning heart. Another 10 percent showed some serious undiagnosed metabolic defect.
Věra Adámková, head of the Department of Preventive Cardiology at IKEM, who was in charge of the survey, says sudden death threatens even those who appear to have no problems with their health but the risk is very hard to assess:
“It is very difficult to identify people who are seemingly healthy but at the same time are at risk of sudden death. Usually it is a problem concerning the heart’s electrical conduction system or an inflammation of some part of the heart muscle, and these are very difficult to diagnose.”
Professor Jan Pirk, chief cardiologist at the Centre of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, says that rather than individual sportsmen, an underlying heart condition threatens mostly team athletes, such as football, hockey or rugby players, who have a greater tendency to neglect the treatment of colds or flues. But even such seemingly trivial problems can have devastating consequences.
“These people feel greater responsibility towards the team. They put more pressure on themselves in order to meet expectations. If you are an individual athlete, you are more willing to cancel participation in a race due to health problem because you will only hurt yourself.”
Professor Věra Adámková says some of the athletes who have undergone the screenings at IKEM were advised to give up their sports career altogether, while others were recommended to attend regular check-ups.
The team of experts from the Centre’s Department of Preventive Cardiology plan to carry on with the screenings in the future. They also want to create more pressure on sports clubs to introduce regular check-ups for their members from a young age.