Sports cardiology: what it is for and who it is for

Sports cardiology is a relatively ‘young’ branch of cardiology that has become increasingly well known in recent years, not least because of media events such as the case of Christian Eriksen, the Danish player who suffered a cardiac arrest during the Denmark-Finland match at the 2021 European Championships

A case that has rekindled the spotlight on the risk of sudden death in sport and the importance of performing thorough cardiological check-ups even in apparently healthy sportsmen and women, especially if they have risk factors or a family history of heart disease.

What is Sports Cardiology

Sports cardiology deals with

  • prevention of cardiovascular events in amateur or competitive athletes
  • management and treatment of all types of cardiovascular disease in athletes.

Thanks to the sports cardiology assessment, together with tests such as echocardiography, cardiopulmonary exercise testing and, if necessary, other second- and third-level tests, it is possible to identify for each person the heart’s capacity to carry out a sporting activity that is appropriate and compatible with the body’s needs.

This allows the sports cardiology specialist to identify the degree and intensity at which that person can safely carry out sporting activity and what threshold cannot be exceeded.

In other words, it allows the sports activity to be modulated in a ‘customised’ manner with respect to the person’s condition and cardiovascular risk profile (heart disease or risk factors present).

Who is the sports cardiologist

The sports cardiologist is a cardiology specialist who has undergone special training in cardiology clinics dedicated to assessing athletes, both competitive and amateur.

The sports cardiologist is a different figure from the sports medicine doctor with whom he is sometimes confused.

The difference lies in the fact that the cardiologist does not issue fitness for competitive activity, but above all has specialised and specific training on cardiac pathologies such that he can follow patients, even those with already overt heart disease, who play sports at high levels, guaranteeing them diagnostic and therapeutic paths to do so in absolute safety.

To whom sport cardiology is addressed

There are various situations that can lead a person to turn to a sports cardiology expert.

In some cases, the patient may arrive following a cardiological check-up or an acute episode in which a cardiological problem has emerged, in others for a simple check-up, especially after the age of 35.

The categories targeted in particular by sports cardiology are

  • competitive sportsmen and women over the age of 35, the so-called masters, who engage in medium- to high-intensity sports such as marathons, half-marathons, long-distance cycling, swimming competitions, and who, especially in the presence of cardiovascular risk factors (such as smoking habits, overweight, dyslipidaemia, hyperglycaemia, etc.) and/or previous cardiovascular events, want to be as safe as possible;
  • competitive athletes whose fitness has been suspended or revoked for cardiovascular reasons;
  • sportspeople without known cardiovascular problems at any level, including non-competitioners, who wish to check their cardiovascular health with a view to prevention and safety by means of in-depth courses.

In addition to these categories, in recent times more and more athletes are being followed by a sports cardiologist after developing forms of myocarditis due to Covid.

In these cases, but also in general, especially after a certain age, before returning to sporting activity, it is important that the athlete or aspiring athlete is closely monitored by the sports cardiologist to avoid risks.

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