Athletes are known for their extraordinary fitness levels, but in recent years a small yet notable proportion of athletes are suffering from what is called sudden cardiac death (SCD).
Approximately 80% of non-traumatic sudden deaths in athletes below 35 years of age are attributed to a number of hereditary or congenital heart disorders that predispose them to malignant ventricular arrhythmias.
While still a minimal percentage, the consistency of which SCD is prevalent in young athletes has called for the implementation of organised screening programmes by most major sporting governing bodies, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
Aspetar’s Sports Cardiology Project, which was established in 2008, provides medical clearance for any young athlete wanting to participation in sport through routine systematic evaluations intended to identify pre-existing cardiovascular abnormalities, thereby reducing the potential for adverse events and loss of life.
Despite the success achieved since testing has been implemented, one of the initial main concerns about cardiac testing in athletes still remains. Due to the electrical and structural heart modifications, the validity of the electrocardiogram interpretation can be very difficult to ascertain as a consequence of regular and intensive physical activity, the so called ‘athletes heart’, which occasionally overlap with cardiac disorders commonly implicated in sudden cardiac death.
These changes differ between ethnicities, and Aspetar, through the Sports Cardiology Project, is the world leader in understanding the impact of an athlete’s ethnicity, in particular the West Asian ethnicity (covering the Gulf, Middle East, Maghreb, Persia and East Asia) upon the cardiovascular adaptations induced by regular and intensive exercise.
Based on the phenomenal awareness that the Sports Cardiology Project has garnered thus far, Aspetar has produced over 50 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, including two British Journal of Sports Medicine special issues in ‘Sports Cardiology’, outlining how to assist physicians in lowering the risk of mistakenly interpreting ECG and ECHO changes in Arab athletes, thereby limiting the number of unnecessary sporting disqualifications.
In October 2014, Aspetar delivered the first advanced IOC course in Sports Cardiology outside of Europe and North-America and, to date, have screened close to 10,000 athletes, with more than 150 athletes with cardiac conditions undergoing regular check ups with Aspetar.