Over the years, a number of high-profile sportspeople under the age of 35 have been affected by undetected cardiovascular conditions. Footballer, Fabrice Muamba, and cricketer, James Taylor, both survived their cardiac events but, tragically, there have been fatalities, including Cameroonian international, Marc-Vivien Foé and Livorno’s Piermario Morisini.

“Affected people under 35 could have an inheritable condition — although they may be the first person in their family to experience it” says Dr Mark Mason, Consultant Cardiologist at RB&HH Specialist Care. “Broadly, problems result from types of cardiomyopathy (which affect the heart ventricles) or harder to find channelopathies, which are underlying conditions causing abnormal rhythms in an otherwise normal heart.” Most over-35s who experience a cardiac event, meanwhile, will do so because of previously undiagnosed coronary artery disease.

 

Know the symptoms

 

If you have an undetected cardiovascular condition, longer duration, high intensity exercise could heighten the risk of a cardiac event, particularly in the over-35s. However, Dr Mason stresses, the overwhelming evidence is that exercise is hugely beneficial for the vast majority of people. So it's important to keep active.

“To put it in perspective, around one in 20,000 exercisers per year have a cardiac event,” says Dr Mason. “Instances are probably lower for the under-35s who are generally healthy, and a bit higher for those over 35 with underlying cardiovascular risk.” Symptoms can include shortness of breath, lightheadedness or blackouts, heart palpitations or chest pain (“which could be tightness, heaviness, or the sensation of having a belt being tightened around your chest,” says Dr Mason).

 

Make lifestyle changes

 

Over 35s can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by eating a healthy diet and cutting out smoking. In the under 35s, however, reducing risk of a cardiac event is more challenging — particularly if you don't know you have a problem to begin with. “Then we get into the contentious issue of mass screening programmes,” says Dr Mason.

In Italy, for example, anyone between the ages of 16 and 35 has to undergo screening – by law – before participating in sport at any level. “As a result, it's estimated that Italy has reduced its instances of cardiac events by around 90 per cent,” says Dr Mason. “The problem in the UK is that we don't have any formal infrastructure for mass screening at this point. But there are charities out there who — at times — run screening programmes for worried individuals.”

For more information visit rbhh-specialistcare.co.uk