Making them mandatory
It’s rare for athletes to die in a race or during training, but a hidden heart defect that stresses the heart can cause sudden death.
A panel of the American Heart Association Science Advisory and Coordinating Committee convened in 2009 to assess the benefits of screening for early detection of cardiovascular abnormalities in competitive athletes. They also looked at the cost efficiency, feasibility and medical and legal issues.
The consensus of this panel was “that some form of preparticipation cardiovascular screening for high school and collegiate athletes is justifiable and compelling, based on ethical, legal and medical grounds.” They concluded “that a complete and careful personal and family history and physical examination designed to identify cardiovascular lesions known to cause sudden death or disease progression in young athletes is the best available and most practical approach to screening populations of competitive sports participants, regardless of age.”
They also went as far as saying that these screenings should be mandatory for all athletes.
Sports doctors and cardiologists don’t agree on what should be required or recommended for older athletes. “It takes time, it costs money, and there’s a false positive rate. We want to work out what the cost effectiveness is of preparticipation screening,” says Dr. Euan Ashley, director of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at Stanford Hospital. “These diseases, after all, are rare.” Studies show about one death occurs for every 50,000 runners in marathons.
Though sudden death is rare, runners should always listen to their bodies when it comes to heart health. Normal exhaustion or being out of breath when going hard is common. Numbness, dizziness or chest pains aren’t, and may be symptoms of a more serious problem. Discuss them with your doctor.
Preventive measures are important for all athletes. Ensure that your diet is “heart healthy.” Reduce your trans fats, saturated fats, simple sugars and sodium intake. Eat lots of fruits and veggies, grains, fiber and healthy fats, such as those in nuts, fish, olive oil and avocados. Drink water instead of soft drinks and sugary juices. Ask your doctor about a daily dose of baby aspirin. Reduce the amount of processed foods you eat—they’re usually high in salt and chemicals. Drink alcohol in moderation and if you can, stick to red wine. Most recently, experts suggest one small piece of dark chocolate a day to reduce high blood pressure, which is good news for anyone with a sweet tooth.