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Health Matters

Diagnosis and prevention of cardiovascular diseases in athletes

Dr. João M. Leitão (Cardiologist) . 29/09/2017

On World Heart Day, we emphasise that the Joaquim Chaves Saúde Clinics are at the forefront of diagnosis and prevention of cardiovascular diseases, namely among athletes.

The benefits of physical exercise associated with a healthy lifestyle for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases are proven and widely known. Never have we seen in our society so many individuals practising intense and regular physical exercise, and participants in sports competitions.

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is the principal cause of death in athletes during sports. Although rare, its occurrence in often young and apparently healthy athletes has great emotional and social impact on their community. According to the latest statistics, the figures vary greatly depending on the population assessed, estimating that there is 1 case of SCD in 40.000, even 1 in 80.000 athletes, per year. Over time, constant efforts have been made to improve knowledge about SCD and find more effective prevention strategies.

A variety of hereditary, structural or electric heart conditions are associated with SCD in young athletes, many involving arrhythmias, most of which can be detected or suspected by conducting a simple 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG).

Ventricular arrhythmias are frequently detected in athletes’ ECGs, although in a considerable number of cases, this may not be conclusive and can require additional diagnostic tests, such as Stress Tests and 24-hour Holter monitoring to evaluate the type of arrhythmia correctly and the risk involved, thereby supporting the decision of advising the athlete to suspend or maintain training, or participation in sports competitions.

In addition to the 12-lead ECG and ECG with Stress Test, as well as Doppler Echocardiography, the JCS Clinics in Miraflores and Cascais now offer the possibility to conduct Holter monitoring on athletes, enabling arrhythmias to be detected during the 24 hours including practise, using equipment designed specifically for that purpose, given that the monitors commonly used do not provide quality registers.

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