This post is by Alex Orlek, one of our digital volunteers, who spoke to scientists about the Athlete’s heart exhibit.
Professor Sanjay Sharma is having a particularly busy year, not least, taking responsibility for the screening of all British Olympians before the games in order to detect potentially fatal heart conditions amongst our athletes. This week however, Professor Sharma, his colleagues from St George’s, University of London and the charity ‘Cardiac Risk in the Young’ have been working at the Summer Science Exhibition, where visitors can learn about heart health from cardiologists, and even undergo a screening thanks to the on-site electrocardiogram (ECG).
The exhibit Athlete’s Heart focuses on the unexpected heart attacks which can strike apparently young and healthy individuals, often as a result of vigorous exercise. Of course, regular exercise, for the most part, is great for heart health. However, 1 in 300 athletes are thought to have a dormant heart condition which usually only emerges in the form of a sudden exercise-related cardiac arrest.
The most common cause is ‘hypertrophic cardiomyopathy’, in other words, heart disease associated with a thickening of the heart muscle. Professor Sharma’s research focuses on better understanding the changes to an athlete’s heart which result from training, and to distinguish these normal changes from sinister heart conditions, which can appear similar – both involving thickening of the heart wall.