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Promising $30 million to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the National Football League is striving to further medical research to better identify and even prevent medical issues like Alzheimer’s disease, health effects of performance enhancing drugs, chronic joint disease, heart disease and heart abnormalities such as sudden cardiac arrest.

Concussions and brain injuries have received notoriety of late, but heart conditions aren’t as well known. NFL player Gaines Adams made national headlines in 2010 when he suffered a fatal sudden cardiac arrest. Coroners reported that it was due to an enlarged heart, however his family had no idea. Gaines was an incredibly healthy athlete with no prior symptoms and no warning signs before the event ensued.

An American College of Cardiology publication put forth that NFL bound players had an increased cardiovascular risk. The 2002 study used an electrocardiogram (ECG) and found that 50% of the 1,282 players tested had abnormal findings, especially in their ST and T waves. Each cycle of the heartbeat is listed in letters starting with P and going through Q, R, S, and T.  There are symptoms like Long QT, Short QT, and QRS complex which predispose people to cardiac events, specifically sudden cardiac arrest. ST changes, while not demonstrated so far as much of a risk, can indicate a potential problem as well.

Similar athletic heart research has been conducted by Barry Maron, MD, Director of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, who created a registry of young athletes to better gauge causes of sudden cardiac death. Of the 1049 cardiovascular deaths in this Minneapolis registry as of 2009, 36% of them, the largest percentage of any causes, were due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is a condition when one part of the heart becomes thicker than normal making it harder to pump blood throughout the body. While ECGs can identify these irregularities, ultrasound techniques like echocardiograms can more easily diagnose them.

This NFL grant, like Dr. Maron’s research, will hopefully aid in better identifying and preventing terrible cardiac tragedies from occurring. Not only is this grant fueling the medical community to develop innovative research, but also creating much needed public awareness.

In Good Heart Health,

Eric Schroeder

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