Kiran Bhagat, the cardiologist specialist’s advice to sporting athletes is to seek medical attention before they engage in sport to avoid sudden death or any complications.
Bhagat of Cardiac Clinic was approach by Sunday Standard Sport to seek his advice on how best athletes and sporting bodies can avoid death of athletes due to heart related diseases.
In the just ended football season two players collapsed and died on the spot due to heart complications, Township Rollers’ Gofaone Tiro and Leatile Setabosigo of Mahalapye Santa Green. The two players collapsed during training and were certified died upon arrival at the hospital.
Asked how such incidents could be prevented Bhagat said: “Almost certainly such episodes of ‘sudden death’ can be reduced and often prevented by screening all athletes of whatever background at the outset. This could be undertaken by a medically qualified sports practitioner or physician. With simple tests, a good family history and physical examination, most conditions can be detected and where needed, referred for specialist opinion.”
He further explained that the basic tests include, measuring the pulse, blood pressure and listening to the heart, a resting electrocardiogram (ECG) and sometimes a chest X-ray. Bhagat emphasised that a good physical examination is always required.
Bhagat observed that the common cause of sudden death in athletes is heart related. “This can be from a variety of causes which include birth defects that have been undetected (such as ‘holes’ in the heart (known as atrial or ventricular septal defects), which are worsened over time resulting in impairment of blood flow to the body. It may also result from abnormal thickening of the walls of the heart as a result of continuous physical training which in some individuals are predisposed to this type of condition. This results in ‘over enthusiastic’ thickening of the walls, compromising the internal spaces of the heart resulting in a reduced blood flow into and out of the heart, so that during peak exertion, the sudden drop in cardiac output (blood leaving the heart) results in collapse and sometimes death” Bhagat explained.
He also observed that other reasons may be electrical abnormalities (conduction defect) of the electrical wiring of the heart, again undiagnosed which can result in chaotic rhythms of the heart resulting in sudden death. There are a variety of other causes such as leaking valves of the heart which worsen during physical exertion – ultimately resulting in heart failure.
Asked why it seems the incidents of athletes dying from heart complications during training seem to be on the rise when it is common cause that training is part of the things that should be encouraged as it keeps one healthy, Bhagat said: “I do not believe that the incidence of heart complications are rising in athletes. It is simply that they are more publicised. Physical training is encouraged amongst the public at large. However, it should always be emphasised that after a certain age or a family history of diabetic or cardiac disease, individuals should seek clearance from their medical practitioner. The doctor will undertake basic tests to ensure their safety during exercise”.
Bhagat’s advice to national athletes and any serious sporting enthusiast is to ensure that they seek basic medical clearance before engaging in seriously committed, regular or heavily exertional activity.
“In the majority of cases the clearance will be given immediately but in those few exceptions where unusual findings are discovered, the early detection, appropriate management, treatment and possible cure are often the result,” advised the cardiologist.
He also explained that in the isolated few where abnormalities are found, appropriate management of the athlete can be undertaken or occasionally the athlete is medically disqualified, based on the relevant findings.
He explained that he has given health talks to several sporting organisations and gyms. “I have recommended that all athletes, of whatever background, be appropriately screened by relevantly qualified medical professionals in order to provide surety against the recent incidents that have occurred” he said.