Some older athletes need heart checks, says cardiac expert


A BLOCKAGE in the arteries that supply the heart is the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in athletes aged over 35, heart specialists were told yesterday. Older competitive athletes should have mandatory testing if they have risk factors for heart disease, they heard.

Prof Mats Borjesson of Gothenburg University in Sweden said that in contrast to sudden cardiac death in young athletes, which is often due to an inherited cardiac abnormality, "master" athletes who die suddenly do so following a heart attack. He recommended that men over 35 and women over 45, who are involved in competitive sport, and who had a high risk profile for heart disease, should undergo an exercise test to rule out the presence of underlying but "silent" coronary artery disease.

However, Prof Borjesson said that older men and women involved in recreational sports and normal leisure time activities did not need to undergo an exercise electrocardiogram (ECG) unless advised to do so by a doctor. Although regular exercise lowers the risk of heart disease, the risk of triggering a cardiac event increases during vigorous activity.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Munich, Prof Borjesson said a high level of competition can lead to the sudden release of stress hormones and an increased risk of blood clot formation.

Meanwhile, an Irish study found that patients with heart disease do not stick to recommended exercise programmes once they finish formal cardiac rehabilitation. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin and St Vincent's Hospital found only 4 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men were sticking to the recommended exercise regime of more than 30 minutes exercise five days a week.

Coronary heart disease: the numbers

• Coronary artery disease causes 750,000 deaths annually in the EU

• One person suffers a cardiac event somewhere in the world every 26 seconds

• Some 20 per cent of all deaths in the Republic are due to cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke

• In the region of 5,000 Irish people die of heart attack every year