Professor Antonio Pellicia is a renowned cardiologist and a world authority on cardiovascular screening, disease and sports medicine. Pellicia, who works for the Italian Olympic Committee, talked about heart problems in athletes in light of the World Rowing Federation, FISA's recent requirement of pre-competition electrocardiogram or ECG screening. This screening is to help identify critical heart problems among rowers and reduce the probability of "Sudden Cardiovascular Death” in Sport (SCD).

The aim of the physical and ECG screening is to bring a potential heart condition to light before the athlete suffers from a serious health issue as an individual may not be aware that they have a cardiac problem.

Pellicia has been working with the medical commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who have produced information on the importance of sporting codes to address cardiovascular issues in athletes. "My purpose is to identify the best strategy for screening athletes with cardiovascular disease to prevent or reduce the incidence of cardiac death."

From Italy, Pellicia says that his country has had the medical issues of athletes as an agenda for a number of years. "We have state laws that oblige medical physicians to take care of the athletes. They are responsible for the medical clearance of athletes. So we are backed by the law and that gives us a big responsibility."

He praised FISA for introducing the health screening measures which came into effect this year at the World Rowing Junior Championships and will apply to athletes at the World Rowing Junior, Under-23 and Senior Championships in 2015. Pellicia says for FISA to implement the IOC medical commission recommendations so quickly was impressive. "We know that the process is quite slow. It requires organisation, cost and expertise and also a cultural change. You need the people to be sensitive to the issue. So it's mostly a cultural change and I must say I'm very pleased that FISA took this step because it's a clear sign that FISA is maintaining and helping the health of their athletes."

Rowing, along with endurance sports such as cycling, canoeing, long distance running and cross country skiing, has more of an impact on the cardiovascular system of athletes compared to other sports says Pellicia. He stresses that medical care of the cardio vascular system is a way to prevent cardio vascular damage to the heart.

Pellicia told the physicians that it was important for the medical community to take care of this important problem. "We realise that no screening will ever be able to catch all disease," says Pellicia who acknowledges that epidemiological data shows the difference among the human population throughout the world. But he says that this is a positive step in the screening process. "In a practical way the electrocardiogram is relatively easy to implement."

"The screening is a job for the team physicians. That's the principle we adopt within the IOC commission. So we are trying to transfer (the screening) to the national federations."

Cardiac Screening, AUS, Dr Larissa Trease

Antonio Pelliccia: How to read the ECG in athletes