Heart check that could reveal if YOUR teen has a hidden problem7 min read

0
24

Ever since he took up competitive swimming aged nine, Aron Preece has been the epitome of a fit and healthy young man. 

Now 19, his slim but powerful frame is testament to the thousands of hours he has spent ploughing up and down the pool doing the sport he loves.

But just over 18 months ago, Aron was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition: Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome, an electrical fault that causes the heart to beat too fast. It is caused by an extra ‘wire’ of tissue between the top two chambers and the lower pumping chambers of the heart, which can set up a circuit of rapid electrical activity.

Symptoms include palpitations, fainting and chest pain but without these it can remain undetected, as in Aron’s case. Aron’s condition could have remained hidden had his parents, Kerry and Richard, not taken him and his sister to a free heart screening held at his swimming club in June two years ago.

Ever since he took up competitive swimming aged nine, Aron Preece has been the epitome of a fit and healthy young man. Now 19, his slim but powerful frame is testament to the thousands of hours he has spent ploughing up and down the pool doing the sport he loves. But just over 18 months ago, Aron was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition: Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome, an electrical fault that causes the heart to beat too fast

Ever since he took up competitive swimming aged nine, Aron Preece has been the epitome of a fit and healthy young man. Now 19, his slim but powerful frame is testament to the thousands of hours he has spent ploughing up and down the pool doing the sport he loves. But just over 18 months ago, Aron was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition: Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome, an electrical fault that causes the heart to beat too fast 

Aron and Anya, then 14 and also a talented swimmer, were tested with around 200 other young people. ‘We never thought they would find any problems,’ says Kerry, 52, from Shrewsbury, who works for the local authority. ‘As it was free, it seemed sensible to do.’

When the consultant told Kerry that Aron had a problem with his heart, she broke down. ‘I couldn’t believe that Aron, who was so fit, had this,’ she says.

The screening was organised by Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), a charity that seeks to identify hidden heart conditions in those aged 14 to 35. Since 1995, the charity has screened more than 185,000 young people, with 30,000 screened last year alone.

The screening Aron attended was funded by money raised in memory of Matthew Dewhirst, another sports-mad Shropshire youngster. In 2012, Matthew, 17, collapsed and died on the rugby pitch during training.

Check this out  Man United stars arrive at Carrington ahead of Bayern Munich tie

He had fainted in the past while exercising, but subsequent tests had indicated nothing. The day before he died, he had complained of chest pains.

Matthew’s post-mortem showed the most likely cause of death was an electrical fault with his heart that had not been picked up — perhaps because he was not exercising intensely enough during monitoring to trigger it.

Matthew’s mother, Sue, spoke to Good Health five years ago about her son’s death and ever since, she and husband, Chris, have tirelessly promoted CRY and raised £150,000 — which will pay for about 4,300 screenings at £35 a head.

Symptoms include palpitations, fainting and chest pain but without these it can remain undetected, as in Aron¿s case. Aron¿s condition could have remained hidden had his parents, Kerry and Richard, not taken him and his sister to a free heart screening held at his swimming club in June two years ago. Pictured: Aron (second left) with his parents and sister

Symptoms include palpitations, fainting and chest pain but without these it can remain undetected, as in Aron’s case. Aron’s condition could have remained hidden had his parents, Kerry and Richard, not taken him and his sister to a free heart screening held at his swimming club in June two years ago. Pictured: Aron (second left) with his parents and sister

At the screening, participants complete a health questionnaire. Then they are connected to an ECG machine using 12 electrodes taped to the chest, which monitors the heart’s electrical activity.

The heart’s activity produces a ‘trace’ on a screen that can be quickly interpreted by a cardiologist. Abnormal readings are referred to a consultant, and the patient is given an echocardiogram, an ultrasound scan to detect structural abnormalities.

7 litres

The amount of blood pumped through the heart per minute

Anya went first and took about ten minutes, but Aron’s screening took much longer. Eventually, Kerry was called into the room.

‘The consultant said that from the unusual and distinct pattern produced, he could tell that Aron’s heart was racing,’ she says.

For those with WPW, the heart could go as fast as 250 beats per minute, when the usual resting rate for an adult is between 60 to 100 beats per minute.

‘Aron had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which although serious was operable,’ says Kerry.

Only 11 days after his diagnosis, following a further meeting with a cardiac consultant, Aron underwent cardiac ablation. Under local anaesthetic, long tubes called catheters are inserted into a vein in the patient’s groin and moved up into the heart where the extra tissue causing the problem is destroyed using radiofrequency.

The procedure takes about two hours. Patients usually, as in Aron’s case, go home that day.

‘The vast majority of young people who die from an undiagnosed heart condition have no warning signals,’ says Sanjay Sharma, a professor of inherited cardiovascular disease and sports cardiology at St George’s Hospital in London, who oversees CRY’s screening programme.

‘An ECG is the cheapest test in cardiology, yet it’s the most effective in identifying a genetic or congenital condition, with WPW being the most common.’

The heart's activity produces a 'trace' on a screen that can be quickly interpreted by a cardiologist. Abnormal readings are referred to a consultant, and the patient is given an echocardiogram, an ultrasound scan to detect structural abnormalities. Anya went first and took about ten minutes, but Aron's screening took much longer. Eventually, Kerry was called into the room. 'The consultant said that from the unusual and distinct pattern produced, he could tell that Aron's heart was racing,' she says. Pictured: Aron and Kerry

The heart’s activity produces a ‘trace’ on a screen that can be quickly interpreted by a cardiologist. Abnormal readings are referred to a consultant, and the patient is given an echocardiogram, an ultrasound scan to detect structural abnormalities. Anya went first and took about ten minutes, but Aron’s screening took much longer. Eventually, Kerry was called into the room. ‘The consultant said that from the unusual and distinct pattern produced, he could tell that Aron’s heart was racing,’ she says. Pictured: Aron and Kerry

CRY’s findings show that every week in the UK, 12 young (under 35), apparently fit people die from an undiagnosed heart condition.

Of the 600 sudden deaths every year, 80 per cent did not show any prior symptoms. Other life-threatening conditions that can be picked up with screening include Long QT syndrome, when the heart takes longer than normal between beats, and Brugada syndrome, which sees the heart beat dangerously fast.

‘In these athletic people who die, it’s not the exercise that kills them — that’s purely a trigger in people who have cardiac abnormalities,’ says Professor Sharma.

‘We have calculated that one in 300 young people in this country unknowingly has a cardiac condition that could cause sudden death. My aspiration would be to have a national screening programme so those in their teens to early 20s would be tested.

‘That’s because most deaths in people aged under 35 are due to inherited abnormalities of the heart that can be detected with an ECG. For those over 35, most deaths are due to coronary artery disease [furring up of the blood vessels] which is not detected with an ECG.’

Aron’s diagnosis could not have been more unexpected.

‘It came as a big shock,’ says Aron, a student at Nottingham University. ‘Having heart surgery so young did sound serious, but as I was told it could be cured, I was reassured I could go back to swimming, which was my big concern.

‘After surgery, my heart beating felt funny, but that was it working normally when in the past it had been abnormal.

‘I had to have two weeks off swimming, but in August I was back competing at the national championships,’ adds Aron, who trains in the pool for up to 20 hours a week, as well as spending four hours at the gym.

‘I had to be re-tested last summer to check everything was fine, which it was,’ he adds. ‘I’ll be checked every two years.’

Aron's diagnosis could not have been more unexpected. 'It came as a big shock,' says Aron, a student at Nottingham University. 'Having heart surgery so young did sound serious, but as I was told it could be cured, I was reassured I could go back to swimming, which was my big concern.

Aron’s diagnosis could not have been more unexpected. ‘It came as a big shock,’ says Aron, a student at Nottingham University. ‘Having heart surgery so young did sound serious, but as I was told it could be cured, I was reassured I could go back to swimming, which was my big concern.

Anya is due to be checked again this year. That’s because by 16, the heart has matured and abnormalities may be more apparent.

Dr Ashley Nisbet, a consultant cardiologist at the Bristol Heart Institute, says many can benefit from screening.

‘Of course, there is a balance with screening in regards to cost; many people have no heart problems at all,’ he says. ‘But I would advocate young people being screened, especially if they often exert themselves physically, which could trigger a problem.’

Kerry is now raising funds and awareness for CRY, too.

‘Everyone who has heard what happened to Aron couldn’t believe it because he’s so fit. But I tell them you can be fit and still have an underlying heart condition,’ says Kerry.