Preventing sudden cardiac death on the world’s biggest athletic stage

London, UK – When 32-year-old Claire Squires collapsed in sudden cardiac arrest during the London Marathon in May, Dr Sanjay Sharma (St George’s Hospital, London, UK), medical director for the race, tried in vain to save her. Now Sharma, head of the cardiology team for the 2012 Olympics, will no doubt have Squires at the back of his mind when the Games open later this week. He and his team are doing everything possible to make sure a major cardiac event doesn’t grab the spotlight on sports’ biggest international stage.

Like Squires, at least four elite athletes have been felled by sudden cardiac death in recent months, including soccer star Fabrice Muamba, who arrested but miraculously survived. The media attention these events have garnered has inflamed the controversy over whether better preparticipation screening would have prevented any of the deaths or whether the time has come for nations and health organizations to agree on a universal approach. And although cardiac events at past Olympic Games have been rare, they’re not unheard of.

Sharma is taking no risks.

He and his team have screened the entire UK Olympic squad for possible underlying cardiac conditions that could predispose to sudden death.

“We had to screen 32 different squads from various sporting disciplines ranging from athletics to rowing, many of which contained individuals not necessarily going to make the final team,” Sharma told heartwire. “The aim was to identify conditions that could potentially cause sudden cardiac death in an individual.”

In all, the team led by Sharma, who heads the only sports cardiology clinic in the UK, screened around 1000 potential Olympians and identified two athletes with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. Those athletes, said Sharma, were told they would have to have a catheter ablation if they wanted to compete in the games. He doesn’t know if they ended up making the final squad.