Having seen so many young fit high profile athletes (including recent news regarding Laurent Vidal) suffer heart attacks, it made my recent experience with the emergency department suddenly seem rather more serious than I gave it credit for.
A week or so ago, I was suffering pains which I described as heart burn (although I don’t suffer from heart burn so wouldn’t actually know what that’s like). Gaviscon after a spin class didn’t fix it so I called the doctors surgery and spoke to a nurse just for some advice. I wasn’t thinking too much of it at this stage. Within 2 hours of that call I was cancelling all my day’s appointments and being called an ambulance when I simply visited visiting the doctor for what I considered just a routine check. Three ECG’s, several blood tests, some angina meds, oxygen and a chest X ray later I was told I wasn’t in fact having a heart attack but I needed to lay off all exercise for a week. Wow! Heart attack?, I hadn’t even considered that! I was rather bowled over by how serious my doctor took it, and tried to insist this wasn’t all necessary at all. On the plus side, my resting heart rate was 48, enough to alarm the machine for being so low!
I reflected on this later, after cursing the doctors bills that came in the post, then I saw sense. Although there is a certain MO that fits heart disease and heart attacks, there are many many stories of people who also suffer without any precursor symptoms seeming to be completely healthy and fit before hand. perhaps I need to be thanking my doctor for being so cautious.
Thankfully, so far I am ok.
So this made me look up what exactly does cause such serious heart problems in younger fit people that are seemingly very low in risk factors.
Here’s what I found.
The causes of sudden cardiac death in younger people vary. About two-thirds of the time, death is due to a heart abnormality.For a variety of reasons, something causes the heart to beat out of control. This abnormal heart rhythm is known as ventricular fibrillation.
Some specific causes of sudden cardiac death in younger people include:
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This is a disease in which the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick, making it harder for the heart to pump blood.Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, while usually not fatal in most people, is the most common cause of heart-related sudden death in people under 30. It’s the most common cause of sudden death in athletes. HCM often goes undetected. Genetic conditions. possible causes include long-term high blood pressure, Heart tissue damage from a previous heart attack, Chronic rapid heart rate, Heart valve problems.
- Metabolic disorders, such as obesity, thyroid disease or diabetes.
- Coronary artery abnormalities. Sometimes people are born with heart arteries (coronary arteries) that are connected abnormally. The arteries can become compressed during exercise and may not provide proper blood flow to the heart.
- Long QT syndrome. Long QT syndrome is an inherited heart rhythm disorder that can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats. The rapid heartbeats, caused by changes in the part of your heart that causes it to beat, may lead to fainting. These irregular heartbeats can be life-threatening. In some cases, your heart’s rhythm may be so erratic that it can cause sudden death. Young people with long QT syndrome have an increased risk of sudden death.
Other causes of sudden cardiac death in young people include structural abnormalities of the heart, such as unrecognized congenital heart disease and heart muscle abnormalities, inflammation of the heart muscle, which can be caused by viruses and other illnesses. In addition to long QT syndrome, other abnormalities of the heart’s electrical system, such as Brugada syndrome, can cause sudden death.
Another rare cause of sudden cardiac death that can occur in anyone, though it’s usually heard about in young people who play sports, is called commotio cordis. It occurs as the result of a blunt blow to the chest, such as being hit by a baseball or hockey puck, at just the right time. The blow to the chest can trigger ventricular fibrillation if the blow strikes at exactly the wrong time in the heart’s electrical cycle.