Early Detection Could Prevent Athletes' Sudden Death

Simple MRI scans can pick up a serious heart condition, researchers say

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THURSDAY, Dec. 15, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Sudden cardiac death among young people, including athletes, is a rare but tragic event often caused by a condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD).

Now, U.S. researchers say early detection of ARVD may be key to preventing these deaths.

"Physicians need to know that this is a serious disease, and they should be on the lookout for its early signs and symptoms because it is an important cause of sudden cardiac death in apparently healthy young individuals," senior study investigator and cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Hugh Calkins, of Johns Hopkins University, said in a prepared statement.

His team published its findings this week in the online edition of the journal Circulation.

Although ARVD is potentially deadly, "preventive treatment with an implantable defibrillator appears to eliminate the risk of sudden death," Calkins said.

He and his colleagues analyzed the characteristics of 100 men and women with ARVD (69 living and 31 deceased), with a median age of 31.

The disease frequently strikes people who are relatively young, the study found, and symptoms such as palpitations, dizziness and fainting may appear up to 15 years before diagnosis.

Symptoms usually appear after puberty and before age 50. Eight of the 31 dead patients in the study who died before they were diagnosed with ARVD had symptoms of the disease while they were alive. This suggests these people could have been treated and saved, said Calkin, who founded Hopkins' ARVD registry in 1998 and is director of the university's arrhythmia programs.

"Our results are a sobering reminder that if a young person faints, especially in association with exercise, their physicians should evaluate them carefully for cardiac diseases, including ARVD," study lead author Dr. Darshan Dalal, a cardiology research fellow, said in a prepared statement.

On magnetic resonance imaging scans, ARVD appears as either a protruding or pouch-like bulge from the right side of the heart or a dilated, poorly functioning right ventricle, the researchers said.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about sudden cardiac death.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, news release, Dec. 12, 2005

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