New health checks for young athletes

A nationwide screening programme of amateur athletes to identify those with life threatening heart defects has been launched by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.

The £200,000 pilot programme will screen up to 4000 young athletes a year to identify those who suffer from conditions which can lead to Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD). Scotland is one of only three countries in the world to employ such a programme which is being coordinated by the University of Glasgow, the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Government.

The Cardiac Assessment in Young Athletes (CAYA) programme aims to prevent similar to deaths to that of former Celtic and Scotland footballer Phil O’Donnell who collapsed and died from SCD during a match last December despite being fit and healthy.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said at the launch of the programme at Hampden Park: “Many professional athletes can be screened by their sporting bodies – indeed professional footballers in the SPL already have checks every year. But until now there has been no opportunity for young Scots who participate in organised amateur sports to have access to appropriate testing.

“The launch of the CAYA pilot means that young Scots will soon be able to take part in sport with a greater degree of safety than in the past – and help avoid the tragedy of further preventable deaths.”

Professor of Cardiovascular and Exercise Medicine at the University of Glasgow, Stewart Hillis, said: “Any young person’s death is a tragedy, but it can be even more difficult to accept when that person seems fit and is even taking part in healthy pursuits. In addition to offering voluntary cardiovascular screening to our young athletes, this project will also be an important source of research data to help develop future expertise.

“Screening has been shown to be effective abroad, and our CYA pilot will build on existing good practice by building a unique, tailored service for Scotland.”

The programme will involve a questionnaire on any known heart conditions in the athlete’s family as well as an ECG test to pick up on any abnormalities and an ultrasound to detect any problems with the structure of the heart. The screening will be available to youngsters involved in amateur sport whose GP can refer them for testing.

For more information please contact the Sports Medicine Centre at Hampden Park on 0141 616 6161.

First published: 14 August 2008