Former Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba suffering a near-fatal heart failure during a soccer match last year. He has since retired from the sport.

Cape Town – Sudden cardiac death is becoming an increasing worry for athletes, says leading sports scientist Professor Wayne Derman.

Derman, who is a member of the SA Medical Research Council, said sudden cardiac arrest could be defined as a natural death occurring within six hours of the onset of symptoms.

“The risk of sudden cardiac death for people younger than 35 is 0.3 to 3.6 per 100 000 people per year,” Derman said.

Speaking at the third day of the Sixth World Congress of Paediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Derman said that although working out was important for the heart, the intensity of the workout could affect the recovery period and could also increase the risk of a sudden cardiac attack.

“In athletes, this figure is much higher at one to three people per 100 000 per year,” Derman said.

Last year, Bolton Wanderers soccer player Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest during a FA cup match against Tottenham Hotspur. His heart stopped for more than an hour.

Muamba was treated and recovered from the attack but was forced to retire from professional football.

London Marathon runner Claire Squires, Italian soccer player Piermario Morisini and Norwegian Olympic swimmer Alexander Dale Oen were three athletes who had all died of sudden cardiac arrests last year.

Earlier this year two tri-athletes died during the Ironman endurance race, the men were suspected to have died of heart attacks, which Derman says is “rare” in athletes.

“Of the two athletes who died in the Ironman race in East London last month, both had recently tweeted that they were suffering from upper respiratory tract infections,” Derman said.

He said that screening of athletes was needed in preventing such deaths.

As the debate rages between the US and Europe on the benefit and harm of screening, Derman said the focus should be on what screening protocols should be medically recommended and scientifically justified.

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Cape Argus