All clients undergo a clinical cardiovascular examination by an experienced cardiologist. This involves checking the blood pressure, listening to heart with a stethoscope and examining the pulse and heart size. In addition, two main screening tests are used. The Pre-participation questionnaire is designed to assess the presence of a familial exercise-associated heart problem. It will also pick up any history of medical problems or symptoms which might point to underlying heart disease. The Electrocardiograph (ECG) is a simple test which assesses heart rhythm, the size of heart chambers and can often diagnose an underlying heart muscle or heart rhythm abnormality.
In competitive athletes, we recommend that an Echocardiogram is carried out. This is a detailed assessment of the structure and function of the heart using ultrasound. This allows the precise measurement of heart chamber size, assessment of heart valves and adjacent blood vessels. The echocardiogram is an integral part of the Football Association examination for junior professional footballers.
In older “masters” or veteran athletes (>40yrs), an exercise stress test may be recommended. This involves running on a treadmill while attached to an ECG machine. This test is designed to help assess the underlying risk of coronary artery disease.
A formal sports cardiology assessment is recommended for all athletes suffering from breathlessness, palpitations, chest pain or dizziness/fainting during exercise. In many cases these symptoms will not be due to underlying heart disease.
Regular, carefully prescribed exercise has been shown to have many benefits in patients with heart disease including cardiomyopathy and heart failure. This can improve general physical fitness as well as improving self esteem. For obvious reasons, the approach to regular exercise has to be modified in this group and exercise prescribed in collaboration with the patient’s medical team. Sports Cardiology Ireland provide an exercise prescription service for this patient group provided approval has been given by the patient’s cardiologist.