I was going to write about something else this weekend. But then I read that Michael Goolaerts had a cardiac arrest at Paris-Roubaix.

He reportedly had a cardiac arrest after a crash and received CPR at the roadside.

We don’t know much more at the time of writing.

He may have simply crashed and struck his chest. He was on the cobbles at the time, and they are notorious. Commotio Cordis is the term given when a blow to the chest wall put the heart into ventricular fibrillation. It’s most common in boys/young men when they are playing sport. It’s more common than you might think. According to Wikipedia there were 188 cases in the US between 1996 and 2007. 4 in 5 died.

There are a few conditions which he might have had. I thought that cycling at this level would require a basic history, exam, electrocardiogram (which looks at the electrical system) and echocardiogram (echo). An echo is not necessary it would seem (see here). Echocardiography looks at the structure of the heart and is a very common test that is requested on most patients a cardiologist would see. If I was competing at such a level (which I never will) I would want one. Therefore the medical exam has to be considered as pretty cursory.

Nonetheless, the screening as it is might be expected to exclude conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (the muscle layers of the heart become disorganised), possibly arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (fat replaces muscle in the heart), and significant valve disease such as aortic stenosis (blood can’t get out of the heart properly). These are structural problems with the heart which can result in sudden death. Problems with the electrical system such as long QT syndrome or Brugada syndrome (these can predispose people to abnormal life threatening heart rhythm problems) could also be picked up.

Aside from an echo, an exercise ECG might help too – that is an ECG recorded during (and shortly after) exercise. One of the most common causes of death during exercise in young people are aberrant coronary arteries. The coronary arteries supply the heart with blood. Sometimes they take odd paths through the body. There is one route which they sometimes take when one of the runs between the aorta (the tube that takes blood from the heart around the body) and the pulmonary artery (the tube that takes blood from the heart to the lungs). At times of physical stress the coronary artery can become compressed and blood can’t get to the heart, resulting in cardiac arrest. You can see the early stages of that on an exercise test.

There is always the spectre of drug use too. I hate to say it, and I hate to think it, but I am still suspicious of what goes on in professional cycling (and other sports).

Sadly the outlook from “out-of-hospital”, and indeed “in-hospital” cardiac arrest is still poor. But I hope he will be ok. He will have been spotted quickly and had good cardiopulmonary resuscitation early, which will improve his chances. He’s also young and fit, which again stands in his favour. Fingers crossed.

Mark

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