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NFL: Heart Failure in Sports, a Silent Enemy that Requires More Attention

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Damar Hamlin, a standout player in the NFL, suffered heart failure in a game recently. The fact has reopened the debate about heart problems suffered by high-performance athletes.

NFL players on the field of play

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LatinAmerican Post | Juan Felipe Rengifo González

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Leer en español: NFL: Fallas cardiacas en el deporte, un enemigo silencioso que requiere más atención

Recently, NFL star Damar Hamlin, just 24 years old, suffered a cardiac arrest in the middle of a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Although the Buffalo Bills safety has already been discharged and has passed the most risky stage, questions are being raised about the origin of the heart failure suffered by athletes and which continues to claim victims

The sudden death of the Colombian soccer player Andrés Balanta, at the end of November in full training with Atlético Tucumán; the cardiac failure of the Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen, who remained without vital signs for several seconds during a Euro 2020 game, or the premature retirement of the Argentine striker Sergio 'Kun' Agüero a few months after his arrival at Barcelona, are cases that seem to be isolated. However, statistically the opposite is revealed.

According to research carried out by the prestigious British cardiologist Nishat Siddiqui, it is estimated that 12 young people who practice sports die every week in the United Kingdom and one in 300 inhabitants have a heart condition without a prior diagnosis. One of the big problems is precisely the lack of knowledge of an abnormal situation in the heart, which makes preventive treatment difficult.

Experts argue that the lack of standardization of protocols to diagnose cardiac anomalies is recurrent throughout the world. The studies carried out on most athletes are mainly focused on performing only electrocardiograms that do not detect most pathologies, since only the electrical activity of the heart is analyzed.

It is best to combine electrocardiograms with echocardiograms, a technique that uses ultrasound to recreate images of the heart and thus detect anomalies such as cardiomyopathies and clots, pathologies that mainly affect younger athletes, and arterial or valve diseases that are more recurrent in older veterans athletes.

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The combination of both tests is the most effective for detecting heart problems, since it has a success rate close to 90%. These types of studies have become widespread in professional leagues in Italy and the United Kingdom. However, most patients do not have access to this type of diagnosis, so a high percentage of cases remain undetected.

Another factor that must be taken into account and that can prevent the risk of heart failure is to identify symptoms that occur during the development of high-performance physical activity. Sudden shortness of breath, chest tightness, sudden or strong dizziness that leads to loss of consciousness are factors that should require immediate medical attention.

High performance athletes are physically trained and prepared for the demands of the sport they practice. The most important thing is prevention and early detection of physiological and genetic abnormalities that they may present. Without these precautions, the consequences of what is becoming more and more frequent cannot be mitigated.

Despite the fact that cardiac pathologies have a greater media impact in the world of sports, advances in medical science and efforts for early detection have prevented a greater number of fatalities. However, there is still a long way to go globally.

Finally, it is relevant that automatic external defibrillators are available in all sporting events, their function is to give an electric shock to the heart that is paralyzed or with an irregular heart rhythm, which would increase the survival rate of people to have a sudden failure.