KELOWNA – It’s the first study of its kind in the country and this week it’s taking place in the Okanagan. Thousands of young competitive athletes are being tested for cardiovascular disease.

Researchers say heart conditions in athletes can appear out of nowhere with no prior symptoms.

“Often genetic disorders are symptom-free so young, seemingly fit athletes won’t express symptoms if they have these disorders. They’re very rare,” says Project and Research Coordinator, Daniel Lithwick.

The study is organized by Sports Cardiology B.C., a clinical and research program out of UBC Hospital in Vancouver.

“The purpose of the study is to screen for [the diseases] and determine [whether] there is a prevalence of them in our population,” says Lithwick.

Young competitive athletes aged 12 to 35 are screened using electrocardiograms (ECG’s). Lithwick says the genetic diseases are very rare and while there is data about them in the United States and even Italy, that’s not the case here in Canada.

“There is little to no data in Canada in terms of incidents of sudden cardiac death as well as prevalence of cardiovascular disorders that we are screening for,” he says.
He says the study has been underway for about a year-and-a-half and in that time there have been some alarming finds.

“We did find a few people who have very concerning cardiovascular disorders and they are undergoing consultation as we speak.”

Lithwick says the study is aimed at starting a dialogue about screening in Canada, finding out what the prevalence of these disorders are in the population being tested and what the most effective way to screen is.

“The idea of whether or not screening should exist is not really something we are ready to speak on, but we are just happy that we potentially helped these people through our research,” says Lithwick.

About 1,600 athletes will be tested in total. Researchers hope to have results published by November. The study is funded by the UBC and Vancouver General Hospital Foundation.

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