Doctors at Vancouver General Hospital, UBC, Sports Cardiology BC, and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute screened 1,419 athletes between the ages of 12 and 35 years. “The goal was to ascertain the prevalence of sudden cardiac death among Canadian athletes,” says Dr. James McKinney, lead author at cardiologist at UBC and Sports Cardiology B.C. Presently, there are no formal guidelines for screening young Canadian athletes. “The most effective method to screen young athletes is not fully understood; our study was developed to help answer this question,” says Dr. McKinney.
Half of the athletes were screened with the American Heart Association’s recommended questionnaire, a physical exam and an electrocardiogram. The second group was screened with a more specific questionnaire and an ECG. The results revealed seven young athletes, or 0.52 per cent had signs and symptoms that could lead to sudden cardiac death.
“The risk is on par with other countries,” says Dr. Andrew Krahn, Chief of Cardiology, Vancouver Coastal Health. “We don’t want to foster unnecessary fear; what we’re saying is the pre-existing factors that cause sudden cardiac death in young athletes do exist in B.C.” The seven athletes in the study who had symptoms that could lead to sudden cardiac death are now being followed clinically.
Armed with the new data, the question is, should all young athletes be screened to determine their risk of sudden cardiac death? “We are not advocating wholesale screening of young athletes,” says Dr. Saul Isserow, cardiologist and founder of Sports Cardiology BC, a non-profit organization dedicated to making sports safer for athletes through research and education. “But if screening is to be pursued, it should be done within research or academic pursuits, to ensure the athletes are treated accordingly.”
Tragically, in most cases when an athlete under the age of 35 suffers sudden cardiac death, a fatality is the first symptom. 80 per cent of the time, it’s caused by inherited conditions. If the athlete lives past the age of 35, they have the same risk factors as the general population. Coronary artery disease then becomes the number one cause of death and more general risk factors come into play including cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.
As Ari Sky prepares for another hockey season, his parents are grateful he had the opportunity to be part of this novel, evidence-based study. “Our son received a clean bill of health, and our family is relieved,” says David Sky. “We know you can’t screen every athlete, but if the information gathered in the study helps save one young life, it is well worth it.”
Vancouver Coastal Health is responsible for the delivery of $3.4 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
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