There has only been slow progress on curbing the leading killer of athletes sudden cardiac death, despite spotting heart problems early. But the development of a series of online tutorials for sports and cardiology doctors looks set to reverse this trend.
The tutorials, which are free to any doctor around the globe, thanks to the backing of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) and FIFA, aim to teach physicians how to read heart monitor tracings (ECGs) and spot abnormalities linked to potentially fatal disorders.
Some inborn heart conditions are difficult to detect, because they progress silently, and are only diagnosed when intense exercise triggers a lethal heart rhythm sudden cardiac arrest. According to the American Heart Association, over 7,000 people under the age of 18 die every year in the US of a sudden cardiac arrest. Studies also suggest the risk is three times higher in competitive athletes.
Last year in the UK, soccer player Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch following a sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 24. He received prompt expert medical attention which helped him make a remarkable recovery.
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"Whether used for diagnostic or screening purposes, ECG interpretation is a fundamental skill for doctors involved in the cardiovascular care of athletes," comments Dr. Drezner. He adds "These online learning modules provide doctors with a common basis for interpreting an athlete's ECG, boosting their chances of making an accurate diagnosis, and of picking up potentially life-threatening problems earlier."
The modules draw on a series of papers presenting new consensus standards on ECG interpretation in athletes, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The standards were developed in collaboration with AMSSM, the Section on Sports Cardiology of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation (EACPR), a registered branch of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Center (F-MARC), and the Pediatric & Congenital Electrophysiology Society (PACES).
"The consensus standards on ECG will help doctors taking care of athletes in every sport to ward off sudden cardiac death," comments Professor Jiri Dvorak, FIFA Chief Medical Officer.
"Ten years ago Marc-Vivian Foe died on the pitch during the FIFA Confederation Cup in Lyon as a result of sudden cardiac death. This shocking event prompted us to take action. A medical assessment before a match, which includes an ECG, is now mandatory for all players taking part in FIFA competitive events," he adds.
As part of its ongoing commitment to ensuring competitor safety, FIFA has also created a standard emergency bag for sports doctors, which comes equipped with a portable defibrillator (AED), which can be used to diagnose and treat cardiac arrhythmias on the pitch, he says.
These will be distributed in June 2013 to all 209 national member associations of FIFA.