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Published on 15th February 2019

Sudden Cardiac Arrest can strike even the fittest and most active and there have been many high-profile cases among sports people in recent years. As a result of this and the growing awareness around sudden cardiac arrest, British cyclists from academy level will now have mandatory heart scans.


The most famous incident happened to Fabrice Marumba, the Premiership footballer, who collapsed on the pitch during a televised match. There was also the Manchester City player Marc-Vivien Foé who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and died at the age of just 28 while playing an international match for Cameroon.

Phil O’Donnell of Motherwell, the golfer Bernard Gallacher, Ice-hockey players Rich Peverley and Jiří Fischer, rugby star Danny Jones and Belgian footballer Gregory Mertens – some of the fittest athletes in the world – all suffered cardiac arrests.

A healthy lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re free from risk.

Heart Scans and Screening

New research indicates that athletes are 3 times more likely to suffer a cardiac arrest and this is why mandatory heart scans are been implemented.  Checking for pre-existing heart conditions is now mandatory in many sports and the FA, Lawn Tennis Association and Rugby Football Union already scan their professional athletes as a matter of routine.

Cycling is the latest sport to introduce compulsory heart scans after 23-year-old Michael Goolaerts suffered a cardiac arrest while riding. British cyclists from academy to elite level will now undergo an assessment and a yearly electrocardiogram (heart scan) to assess whether they are in danger.

Liverpool John Moores University will carry out the heart scans as part of their research into cardiac health in sport. Professor John Somauroo, a sport and exercise cardiologist involved in the research said: “We know there are high profile athletes having cardiac arrests. But equally, unfortunately, there are around 12 young athletes between the ages of 14 and 35 per week dropping dead in Britain.’

Somaauroo suggests that the number of young athletes suffering cardiac arrests could be as high as twenty per week. Other experts think that athletes are three times more likely than non-athletes to be victims.

Between 1997 and 2016, more than 11,000 players filled in a health questionnaire and were given a physical examination, 12-lead ECG and echocardiography. Of these players, 42 (0.38%) had cardiac diseases that could cause sudden cardiac death and hardly any had symptoms of any sort.

The problem with screening

Although many people have no idea that they have an abnormal heart rhythm, even regular screening isn’t guaranteed to identify a problem. Symptoms aren’t always present and heart conditions can develop quickly at any time.

20 years of heart scan screening data taken from footballers aged 16 on the verge of turning professional showed that most died about seven years after a heart scan that showed no problems. The data found a death rate of 1 in 14,700 instead of the previously estimated figure of 1 in 200,000.

The England and Nottinghamshire cricketer James Taylor was recently forced to retire after the discovery of a serious heart condition similar to Fabrice Marumba’s. Nottinghamshire’s director of cricket said that Taylor was: ‘…the fittest boy on our staff – he’d be No1 on our fitness scores in every category – so rarely do we have to worry about him in terms of illness or sickness or anything like that.’

Unfortunately, cardiac arrest is often the first sign that any condition is present.


The most effective way to help athletes is to be prepared for when an emergency happens. A quick response makes all the difference – if you can treat a victim with CPR and defibrillation inside 60 seconds, their chance of survival is as high as 90%. Within 3 minutes, it’s 70% but it drops by 10% every minute after this.

More and more communities and sports clubs are investing in defibrillators – and they’re saving lives. Getting the right unit is also important, you need something that’s quick and easy for anyone to use in an emergency, regardless of their medical training.

Martek Lifecare’s Lifeline is the world’s simplest AED to use and we have a package that’s tailor-made for sports clubs. It’s exactly what’s needed in an emergency situation and could mean the difference between life and death.

If you’d like to find out more about Sudden Cardiac Arrest or how to choose the defibrillator that’s right for you, please get in touch.

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