Sports Cardiology – Who Should Get a Cardiac Screening?
By: Dr. Timothy W. Hagemann
Why You Need a Cardiac Screening
Whether you’re a professional athlete or playing at a much less competitive level – say in a recreational or weekend league, you may benefit from seeing a Sports Cardiologist. You don’t have to be out-of-shape, obese or old to have heart problems.
People of all ages and levels of fitness can develop heart disease or cardiac problems. In fact, as fit and active as they are, endurance athletes can develop atrial fibrillation (also called AFib). Fit or not, cardiac screenings may be appropriate for anyone who wants to become active.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s involved in a cardiac screening, as well as who should consider a cardiac screening.
What is a Cardiac Screening and How Does it Work?
Cardiac screenings are non-invasive, non-painful tests. They begin with your cardiologist reviewing your existing health; assessing any risk factors you may have (diabetes, hypertension, obesity, smoking, cholesterol etc.) before scheduling one or more physical tests. The most common screening tests are:
- ECG: ECG stands for Electrocardiogram. In this test 10-to-12 wires are attached to your legs, arms and chest and hooked up to a machine, which reads the electrical activity of your heart. The results are printed out on paper and read by your doctor.
- Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram uses ultrasound waves to look for evidence of damage, disease or structural heart problems like abnormal valves.
- Exercise or Stress Test: ECG leads are attached, than you walk or run on a treadmill at progressive speeds. Various parameters are measured to assess your heart health.
- Holter Test: The holter is a recording device about the size of a mobile phone. It’s worn for 1-7 days, 24-hours a day. Like an ECG it’s hooked via electrodes to your chest. The device records your heart rhythm around the clock for a more accurate reading of your heart’s activity.
Who Should Get a Cardiac Screening?
There’s a wide range of people who should consider a cardiac screening, including:
- Any adult who previously lived a more sedentary lifestyle and is now looking to start a new and potentially more challenging workout regime should be cleared with a cardiac screening before beginning the program, especially if he/she has a family history of heart disease or presents risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
- Men age 45 and up, active or inactive
- Women age 50 and up, active or inactive
- Anyone experiencing new problems potentially related to their heart, such as dizziness, fatigue, chest pain, or shortness of breath
- Anyone experiencing fast, irregular or quivering or fluttering heartbeats
- Anyone experiencing pain upon exertion, whether climbing stairs, lifting items, walking, or engaging in a sport or exercise routine
Who Should You See for a Cardiac Screening?
Your family doctor is trained to look out for your general health, and to refer you to a specialist when the need arises. If you’re thinking about starting a new sport, an exercise program, or are experiencing any change in your physical activity, ask your family doctor to refer you to a sports cardiologist—a doctor who understands the physiology of the heart and who specializes in cardiac screenings, cardiac health and heart issues in athletes.
Regular cardiac screenings can help catch, or even prevent heart problems before they become serious. They can unmask problems that haven’t surfaced yet and can tell you whether you’ll need further treatment.
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Published June 14, 2019