Background Sudden cardiac death is the most common cause of mortality in young athletes. In some of these, the final pathway is arrhythmia. The authors aimed to identify the incidence, diagnosis and management of athletes undergoing investigation and intervention for cardiac arrhythmias.
Methods Retrospective analysis of all patients between 10 and 17 years presenting to a supra-regional paediatric cardiac unit for investigation and intervention for a cardiac arrhythmia. Elite athletes (county and national level) were identified from the departmental clinical and arrhythmia databases (October 1997–2007). Patients with significant congenital heart disease were excluded.
Results From 657 patients undergoing 680 interventions, 324 were excluded. From the remaining 333 we identified 11 elite athletes – football (n=3), martial arts (n=2), rugby (n=2), triple jump, netball, canoeing, and motor sport (n=1). Presenting symptoms included palpitations (n=8) and syncope (n=1). Two were asymptomatic and investigated following routine screening. Diagnoses included atrioventricular (AV) re-entry tachycardia (n=3), AV node re-entry tachycardia (n=4), complete heart block (n=1), sinus node dysfunction (n=1), vasovagal syncope (n=1) and pre-excited atrial fibrillation (n=1). Arrhythmia interventions included implantable loop recorder (n=2), diagnostic electrophysiology study (n=9), including radiofrequency ablation (n=5), cryoablation (n=2) and pacemaker implantation (n=2). Following intervention, 10 children returned to competitive sport. There were no deaths. No child required long-term medication post-intervention.
Conclusion Of the young competitive athletes identified from the authors' study, there was a high incidence of significant arrhythmias. Intervention is usually successful and most athletes return to elite sport without the need for long-term medication.
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Funding This work was funded internally from departmental resources.
Competing interests AGS is Medical Director of Sports Cardiology UK (http://www.sportscardiology.co.uk) a company which specialises in the cardiological assessment of athletes. No other author has any competing interests.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.