St George’s clinicians lead major study into rates of sudden death in young footballers
Research led by St George’s cardiologists has found that silent heart conditions that cause sudden death in young athletes affect 1 in 266 football players affiliated with the English Football Association.
The research – led by Sanjay Sharma, cardiologist at the Trust and Professor of Inherited Diseases and Sports Cardiology at the university and first author Dr Aneil Malhotra, NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Cardiology at the university – was published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
As well as their links with St George’s, University of London, both Sanjay and Aneil regularly see patients in our cardiology service here at St George’s.
Their study showed that death rates in these young players are also three times more prevalent than previously thought.
The study, which is the first comprehensive study into deaths caused by these inherited conditions, screened 11,168 young football players affiliated with the English Football Association over a 20-year period (1996-2016).
It found that 42 of the players (0.38%) had cardiac irregularities that can lead to heart attacks, most of who (93%) presented no symptoms. The chance of sudden cardiac death was seven in every 100,000 players. This compares to previous estimates, which were crudely based on media reports, search engines and insurance claims, of 0.5 to two in every 100,000 players.
The study also highlights the importance of more regular heart screenings to detect these conditions, which, in most cases, are treatable and athletes can return to competitive sport.
Professor Sharma said: “The death of a young athlete is highly tragic when one considers that most deaths are due to congenital/inherited diseases of the heart that are detectable during life. Affected athletes lose decades of life. Such deaths raise questions about possible preventative strategies.”
“One of the main obstacles to implicating cardiac screening in the young is the lack of information on the precise incidence of sudden cardiac death in athletes. It is well known that adolescent athletes are most vulnerable but, before this study, nobody has ever reported outcomes in a well-defined screened cohort.”
Professor Andrew Rhodes, Medical Director at the Trust, said: “Huge congratulations to both Sanjay and Aneil for this highly significant piece of research.
“Securing a research paper in the New England Journal of Medicine is a once in a lifetime achievement for the vast majority of clinicians, so this is fantastic news for the researchers, and the university, as well as the patients we treat at the Trust, who benefit from our clinicians pushing the boundaries, and pioneering new approaches to health conditions.”
“Our relationship with the university is so important, so the fact that we have so many clinicians with strong links to St George’s, University of London is fantastic.”
Notes to editors
To find out more detail about the study, including the full press release, visit the St George’s, University of London website at https://www.sgul.ac.uk/news/news-archive/death-from-cardiac-disease-in-young-football-players-is-far-higher-than-estimated-study-shows