The Sports Doctor: Treating hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
The condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a cardiac defect which makes extensive exercise dangerous. It is, however treatable if screened early.
The U. S. Olympic Committee doesn't require a physical for U.S. athletes, but is conducting voluntary cardiac screening at its training center. A statistic often cited is that there are 10-to-13 cases of sudden cardiac death among young athletes that are reported yearly. There are some physicians who state that the count could be much higher.
Many physicians agree that scans should be performed on athletes with a family history of sudden cardiac death and/or with symptoms such as heart murmurs, shortness of breath or a history of fainting.
The more common scanning techniques used today are EKG's and echo cardiograms. But neither may find every defect. However the scans can pick up problems that a physician (even with a stethoscope) could miss. This awareness has been vital; parents have organized clinics that offer free or low-cost scans. The clinic utilizes EKG's but also the new, inexpensive variety of echo cardiogram that are a hand held device.
The results are favorable in that they can detect a possible abnormality that can be further worked-up using a comprehensive echo cardiogram in an office or hospital setting.
Italy administers EKG scanning on all competitive athletes, and findings have gone a long way in convincing the IOC and cardiologists in other European countries that this type of screening may save the lives of athletes. Japan administers EKG on all first graders and seventh graders as they believe it makes life saving findings.
In today's competitive sports arena, it is important for schools (elementary and high school) as well as athletic teams to question the young and old as to any medical problems that should be known. Especially those families with a history of heart murmurs, shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting.
Dr. Robert F. Weiss is a sports podiatrist specializing in foot and ankle surgery. He was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials. Dr. Weiss is a veteran of 35 marathons, has a practice in Darien and resides in Westport. For more information visit his website at www.therunningdoctor.net.