According to BBC Sports data 64 football players died in the last eleven years on the pitch, 26 of which are Africans. 25 of of the 26 died from sudden heart arrest. While Africans make up 17% of the world’s footballers they account for nearly 40% of the known deaths. In the USA you have similar statistics in basketball. These figures are also seen in the general population.
What is sudden cardiac arrest (SCA )and are Africans more susceptible for sudden cardiac arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is an abrupt loss of heart function, mostly caused by a very fast and/or chaotic rhythm from the lower chambers of the heart known as ventricular tachycardia (VT) or ventricular fibrillation (VF). It is not the same as a heart attack also known as myocardial infarction, which occurs when blood supply to the heart muscles is blocked. A heart attack can however lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
What makes Africans more susceptible to sudden heart arrest?
There are various underlying causes of sudden cardiac arrest and a few are hereditary. However various studies across the globe fail to prove a clear cut racial bias in their inheritance. Africans do not seem to significantly carry more of these genes. It can be concluded that, the lack of awareness and regular check-ups, fake medical reports, late diagnosis and lack of medical follow-up are the main reasons why Africans are more susceptible for sudden heart attacks.
Who then is more likely to suffer from sudden heart attack?
SCA victims range from children to the elderly. SCA risk factors include:
- Survival of a previous SCA episode
- Acute or Previous heart attacks
- Family history of SCA or other heart disease
- Heart failure
- Hypertrophic heart disease (heriditary and non-hereidirary)
– Hypertrophic heart disease is thickening of the muscles of the heart which leads to stiffness and may cause rhythm disorders during intense physical activity like football. It is mostly inherited but poorly managed hypertension can also also be the cause.
- Long QT Syndrom (LQTS)
– LQTS is a disorder of the heart’s electrical activity which leads to an increased risk of an irregular heartbeat which can result in fainting, drowning, or sudden death.
How do I know and reduce my risk?
• Know your family health history
HOCM and Long-QTS are conditions which run in families and could lead to SCA. If you have a history of sudden death in your family, at least get an ecg and ultrasound of the heart done.
Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG) is the process of recording the electrical activity of the heart over a period of time using electrodes placed on the skin.
A cardiologist will determine if you will need further follow-up or if the risk is ruled out.
• Know your individual risk to develop clogged heart vessels thus heart attack aka myocardial infarction. A heart could be a predisposing factor for SCA.
◦ Do you have diabetes?
◦ Do you have high blood pressure?
◦ Do you smoke?
◦ Is your cholesterol level high, especially LDL, the so-called “bad boy cholesterol”?
◦ Do any of your parents or direct siblings have coronary heart disease or suffered a heart attack
◦ Do you experience unexplained chest or upper arm pain?
If you answered at least two of these questions with “yes”, then you need to see do a cardiac check-up to access your risk for coronary heart disease which leads to heart attack.
• Professional athletes should do the recommended regular check-ups
• High blood pressure and diabetes should be well treated. Sufferers of both should get an ecg and/or ultrasound of the heart done every 1-2 yrs before the age of 65. After 65yrs yearly controls are advised.
• Patients with heart failure should ask their doctors about their risk for SCA
• Check your medications: you might need regular ecg control if you take certain drugs regularly like certain antidepressants and anti-arrhythmic drugs. Some antibiotics too should not be combined with these drugs. Avoid self-medicating.
An ICD (implantable Cardioverter) is recommended for persons with a significant risk for SCA . An ICD is a battery-powered device placed under the skin that keeps track of your heart rate. Thin wires connect the ICD to your heart. If an abnormal chaotic heart rhythm is detected the device will deliver an electric shock to restore a normal heartbeat.
In a nutshell, SCA can be significantly be reduced among Africans through more awareness, better access to medical check-ups as well as follow-ups.