Protecting Olympic Hearts

With the 2012 Summer Olympics beginning tomorrow, there is no doubt the spotlight will be on London. Spectators will be following their favorite sporting events, from cycling to swimming to rowing; from around the world they will be cheering for their athletes to bring home the gold.

I sure know the team here at Iridia will be cheering on Team Canada.

london 2012 - Olympic Hearts

Olympic Hearts – Cardiac Prevention

For Dr. Sanjay Sharma, bringing home the gold is one thing, but doing everything possible to protect olympic hearts and prevent a major cardiac event is his priority. A place where thousands of athletes gather and push their body to the limits can be a place that soon turns deadly.

As head of the cardiology team for the 2012 Olympics Dr. Sharma is taking no risks. His team is looking to prevent sudden cardiac arrest from grabbing the headlines.

As part of the prevention strategy Dr. Sharma and his team have screened the entire UK Olympic squad for possible underlying cardiac conditions.

cardiac screening - Olympic Hearts

“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. The aim was to identify conditions that could potentially cause sudden cardiac death in an individual,” said Sharma.

Recommendations & Guidelines

Currently the International Olympic Committees stance is one that recommends 12-lead ECG screening of athletes, but does not mandate it.

Similarly, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the American Heart Association have no screening recommendations for olympic hearts. Although the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine are in the process of developing a position paper on best practices for athlete screening and care.

For Dr. Robert McCormack, the medical director for the Canadian Olympic team, the addition of the 12-lead ECG makes sense as is the standard of care for professional athletes in soccer leagues in Europe and North America.

12-lead ecg - Olympic Hearts

A 12-lead ECG

“Nothing has been decided yet, but I think there is a feeling that we need to develop some guidelines for better cardiac screening than simply taking a family history along with a physical exam,” said McCormack. “It’s too imprecise. It would miss a vast majority of individuals at risk for sudden cardiac death.”

Dr. Sharma understands the limitations of traditional guidelines; it’s why he’s focused on intensive screening efforts for the 2012 Games.

“Our own experience of screening high-level athletes is that about one in 100 has a condition that is congenital and could potentially cause problems later in midlife—such as heart failure or the heart becoming hypertrophied. And one in 300 harbors a condition that could potentially kill instantly. Sadly, only 20% of athletes with these conditions manifest any symptoms whatsoever. Sudden death is often the first presentation,” says Sharma.

2010 Winter Games

Dr Jack Taunton was chief medical officer for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, so he knows how much effort and planning is needed to take care of the athletes, coaches, officials, support staff, media, and volunteers.

2012 Olympics

Resources on hand:

  • Cardiac defibrillators, cardiac monitors, full cardiac medications, full intravenous, and full airway support at every competitive and non-competitive venue
  • A total of 225 automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and 72 LifePak 15 portable heart monitor/defibrillators
  • 10 000 cardiopulmonary resuscitation kits for first responders
  • Two 10 000-sq-ft polyclinics in Vancouver and Whistler
  • 1560 medical professionals
  • Two 54-ft tractor trailers, each with more than 1100 sq. ft. of space for two operating rooms, four trauma beds, and four intensive-care-unit beds

Treatment stats:

  • Health professionals treated 9200 people, many of them coaches, for ailments as minor as a cough or cold, but also for chest pain, shortness of breath, or arrhythmia
  • In Torino, they hospitalized 1198 people and in Salt Lake City they hospitalized 444 people. Compared to just 14 people hospitalized and another 43 patients treated with outpatient services in Vancouver

While the Vancouver Games clearly set a level of precedent for healthcare at the Olympics, we are confident Dr. Sharma is doing everything in his power to create a safe event for all athletes and attendees at the 2012 Games in London.

On behalf of the team here at Iridia we wish all Olympians the best and one final “Go Canada go!”