Sudden cardiac arrest is one of the biggest killers of young people but experts say it is difficult to detect – even after death.The number of young people who die as a result of sudden cardiac arrest is higher than official figures suggest, experts have told Sky News.
Latest figures estimate 12 people under the age of 35 die every week in the UK from an undiagnosed heart condition.
However, leading cardiologist Professor Sanjay Sharma thinks the real figures are around 25% higher.
He adds: “I reckon there are probably about 16 deaths per week in the UK from this so-called sudden arrhythmic death syndrome.
“These deaths are underestimated because many such catastrophes can present in different ways, for example unexplained road traffic accidents, unexplained drownings and even epileptic seizures.”
Ruth Lowe’s son Andrew was 21 when he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.
He had complained of indigestion in the days leading up to his death but had otherwise been fit and healthy.
Speaking at her home near Preston, Ruth recalls the day she was told her only son had died.
She says: “I just couldn’t take it in. I remember screaming and I don’t know for how long but then all these thoughts are going through your mind, just disbelief really.
“Just as that love never leaves me for Andrew, so the grief will never leave me either for the man he was and he would have been.”
According to the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) 80% of young people who suffer cardiac arrest have no previous symptoms.
Currently screening for heart conditions isn’t offered on the NHS although tests can be offered to young people who have symptoms or a family history of cardiac problems. Private screening can cost in excess of £100.
CRY offers its own screening programme across the UK and demand is increasing with 15-16,000 people now being tested each year.
The charity says on average one in 300 of the young people it screens is identified with a potentially life-threatening condition.
It believes that every 14-year-old should have access to free cardiac screening and cites figures from Italy where screening is mandatory for all young people involved in sport and the incidence of young sudden cardiac death has reduced by 90%.
In 2008 the UK National Screening Committee recommended that screening should not be introduced on the NHS for 12-39 year olds.
A review into the policy is due to be completed later this month.
Published: Friday 03 April 2015. By Becky Johnson
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