herald

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Is my heart set to do a Muamba?

THE collapse of Fabrice Muamba last weekend played out every mother's nightmare on live television.

The 23-year-old Bolton player fits the description in a brochure by an Irish group which helps families affected by sudden adult death syndrome.

"So young. So fit, So active...So sudden," says the Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) notice.

However, with a few simple tests tragedies such as those that struck the family Tyrone GAA player Cormac McAnallen could be avoided.

As a reasonably active 26-year-old, at first I thought little about being hooked up to a few wires and running on a treadmill -- but there can be serious consequences of going for cardiac screening.

Ahead of my appointment at the CRY clinic at Tallaght Hospital, I'm warned that I need to be prepared for a bad outcome. The results could affect future employment prospects, getting life insurances or even a mortgage.

Doctors explain that there are three main types of 'heart attacks' which usually depend on age. In older people, the most obvious cause by a blockage in a valve that can lead to a clot.

But for younger people, the causes are less obvious and often not readily detected.

The first in my series of tests is an echocardiogram (echo) which is an ultrasound that gives an accurate assessment of the size and function of the heart.

During this 30-minute process the cardiac technician searches for any structural heart problems, holes in the heart or leaky valves.

Next up is an electrocardiogram (ECG) to look at the electrical signal of the heart. 10 stickers are placed on my chest, legs and arms.

These are hooked up to a machine that painlessly records electrical activity.

Finally, there is the exercise test which is usually done on a treadmill or exercise bike. The aim is to get the heart pumping to a certain rate, which, for someone my age, weight and height, is 194.

The rate is monitored as the speed increases to a steady jog so that you are under a little pressure but nothing too strenuous. And with that little bit of sweat -- the tests that could save your life are done.

Sometimes the cardiologist may recommend a 24-hour Holter -- which is about the size of a personal stereo -- be attached to continuously monitor the heart rate for a period. Often an erratic heartbeat can only be spotted during sleeping.

Thankfully in my case it's all over in less than two hours and everything is okay.

kdoyle@herald.ie

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