Every week in the UK, around 12 young people die suddenly from a previously undiagnosed heart condition. And the majority experience no prior symptoms.
It’s those at peak fitness who are most at risk. People like 28-year-old Daniel, a talented footballer who was found dead in bed by his mum at home in North Staffordshire in March 2015. He had no idea he had a heart condition. Ever since, his family has been trying to raise awareness of hidden heart problems.
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Dr Steven Cox, chief executive of charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) acknowledges that without a screening test he had over 20 years ago, this could well have happened to him. At 16, he moved to America for a tennis scholarship. As part of the programme he had to have mandatory heart screening. It was during this routine testing that he was found to have an abnormality. It resulted in him having to put his dreams of a sporting career behind him, but it may well have saved his life. He says:
“When I was told I had the condition, they said it happened in one in 7 million people. But we now know it’s actually one in a few thousand. For the condition I was identified with – sport is a very bad idea as a career.”
How many people are affected?
There are quite a few different hidden heart conditions and Dr Cox says we know now that around 1 in 300 people tested will be identified with a potentially life-threatening problem. But once you know there’s an abnormality, you can take steps to manage it and that massively reduces the risk of a tragic event. And it doesn’t even necessarily mean, like in Dr Cox’s case, that you have to give up sports.
“There have been many people we’ve identified with a condition including professional athletes who have gone back to playing sport after they’ve been treated. And about one in a hundred people we test will be found to have a non-life-threatening cardiac condition. They might not be symptomatic at that point…