Red Card for Sudden Cardiac Death

The FIFA wants to prevent players
from dropping dead; © Hemera

It comes like a bolt from the blue. A person falls over and, if professional help does not arrive quickly, does not stand up again. Even people which seem to be very healthy may be struck like for example the football professionals Marc-Vivien Foe (Cameroon/2003), Miklos Feher (Benefica Lissabon/2004) or Hugo Cunha (Uniao Leiria/2005), who broke down on the field and could not be revived. Diagnosis: sudden cardiac death.

Now, the FIFA wants to make arrangements for the 2006 world cup in Germany. In addition to defibrillators for the teams, for the first time there will be an additional physical examination sheet, that is a binding groundwork for the 32 teams in the preventive medical check up. The sheet was prepared by Professor Wilfried Kindermann of the Institute for sports and preventive medicine at the Saarland University in Germany.

„All players, who are taking part in the 2006 world cup, must be checked by a physician beforehand“, explains Kindermann. “Thus, the risk of sudden cardiac deaths on the field should be minimized. However, an element of risk will always remain despite best prophylaxis.” The tests include a detailed cardiologic part to get granular on the footballers’ pumps. With a resting and exercise ECG as well as ultrasonic testing of the heart. “I worked out detailed guidelines for this examination in the sheet according to international standards”, says Kindermann.

About 140,000 people died from a sudden cardiac death in the year 2004. Compared to this number, top athletes die of it rather seldom, but these incidents cause great attention in the public. Often, these deaths in athletes are caused by a congenital pathological myocardial swelling or myocardial inflammation. Doping could theoretically lead to an attack as well. “If somebody uses doping drugs, a pathological growth of the myocardium can also occur. This can as well lead to cardiac arrhythmia”, explains Prof. Dr. Ludwig Thierfelder of the hospital for molecular and clinical cardiology at the Charité in Berlin, Germany.

But the FIFA is also trying to track illegal drugs. During the preparation games from March to the world cup’s start at the ninth of June, and in the training camps, too, doping controls are conducted regularly. In the course of the world cup, after each match two players of each team are asked to do a doping test.