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Occupational Hazard Why heart death rates are higher for footballers

The research says a comprehensive heart-screening programme in sport and emergency training to medical teams should be organised for professional clubs.

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A study has revealed that dying due to a stopping of the heartbeat is higher in footballers than ever estimated.

The study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicated that footballers stand a higher risk of dying because their hearts stop beating.

Data for this research was collected for over two decades, whiles about 11,168 youth players in the UK were used in arriving at these findings.

In recent years, there have been some high-profile deaths recorded in football which were as a result of players‘ hearts ceasing to beat in the course of a game.

Marc-Vivien Foe sadly collapsed and passed on while playing for Cameroon aged 28, whiles former England defender Ugo Ehiogu, who was a Spurs coach, also died last year aged 44.

As a result, doctors have called for players to be given more protection to avoid similar deaths, insisting diseases that affect the heart muscle - cardiomyopathies - are silent killers.

READ ALSO: All you need to know about Chelsea's new goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga

The study also shows that the dangers are higher in elite athletes because taxing the heart can trigger their underlying disease.

This is because adrenaline, changes in electrolytes and dehydration all increase the risk of triggering a cardiac arrest.

Despite the risks, deaths recorded from cardiac arrest were though to be on the low for persons plying their trades as footballers.

It was previously estimated that less than two in every 100,000 players die from cardiac arrest, however, recent figures suggest that a higher figure of seven in every 100,000 players die when they suffer cardiac arrests.

Speaking to the BBC, cardiologist Prof Sanjay Sharma, who led the research at St George's, University of London, said although such deaths are rare among players, it is increasingly becoming higher with each passing year.

"It means we need to open our eyes to the fact death rates are higher than we thought, although they are still rare,“ he said.

READ ALSO: Brain injury expert calls for ban on heading in football for under 18s

The study which lasted 20 years found that 42 academy prospects were at risk after being taken through screenings.

They were subsequently given treatments - including corrective surgery and heart drugs - following which 30 resumed their normal careers but the rest were advised to stop playing competitive sport.

Also, eight kids died during the study, with six of them being diagnosed with heart problems.

"It's very difficult for a young kid who's dreamt of this and has done nothing but play football since the age of eight or nine,“ Prof. Sharma said.

"We have to be extremely honest and say there is a risk of sudden death and the death rate is low but we can't predict it.

"If we're asking young people to push themselves beyond their limit to entertain us and be role models for our youth, we have some duty to be protective.“

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