Heart-screening aimed at preventing sudden cardiac arrest in students

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Heart-screening aimed at preventing sudden cardiac arrest in studentsThe Minister for Education and Employment Evarist Bartolo has announced the launch of a new heart-screening project which is aimed at preventing sudden cardiac arrest in adolescents.

BEAT IT – Screening for Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Maltese Adolescents – is the name of the project, and it will help to identify high risk individuals attending 5th form in all Gozitan and Maltese schools.

The project, which is led by cardiologist Dr Mark Abela, is expected to last 6-12 months, starting this scholastic year.

The Minister said that this initiative brings together the Cardiology Department at Mater Dei Hospital, the Ministry for Education and Employment, the University of Malta, the Malta Heart Foundation, and a number of corporate sponsors including TrioMed, importers of Philips.

This age cohort will take advantage of both the education system in Malta, where education is compulsory, whilst also offering the potential for a large recruitment sample (estimated to be 3500-4000) as students will be clustered in the classroom.

Minister Bartolo pointed out that although the condition is rare, the biological, psychological, and social implications in these instances are significant for both the victim’s family and friends, together with the economic ramifications as a result of the victim’s years of life lost.

He added that individuals are often young, well, and presumed to be healthy, which makes the consequences all the more difficult to accept.

“More than 80% of these individuals are asymptomatic before sudden cardiac arrest takes place, which is why screening is important, as evidenced by the data present for screening in competitive athletes,” said the Minister.

Screening with a questionnaire and electrocardiogram has a sensitivity of more than 85%, supporting the implementation of a widespread screening programme.

“Individuals with abnormalities are at a higher risk for exercise-related symptoms, though the majority, accounting for more than 80%, often have no symptoms prior to an event, with patients often presenting for the first time with a cardiac arrest,” said Minister Bartolo.

He added that,”symptoms during exercise may be downplayed if educators are not aware of potential problems, thus serving as a learning platform for teachers in schools.”

Those individuals identified as being at a higher risk will be referred to specialist clinics for further investigations and possible treatment.

The University of Malta will be studying the genetic correlation of these individuals through the process of DNA sequencing which will shed light on the genetic implications of such abnormalities.

Photograph: DOI/Omar Camilleri

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