OXFORD University researchers are working to spot tell-tale signs of potentially fatal cardiac arrest in a condition that affects young people.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young people, such as the unexpected near fatal cardiac arrest suffered by footballer Fabrice Muamba in 2012.

Oxford Mail:

The microscopic heart muscle abnormalities behind these tragic events can only be picked up in a post mortem examination.

Now, in a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a team of researchers from Oxford University have borrowed a brain imaging technique to spot the tell-tale disarray in heart muscle fibres that could set off a potentially fatal heart rhythm in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

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This is the first time that these tell-tale signs have been spotted in living patients.

Oxford Mail:

Dr Rina Ariga, lead author on the paper and a clinical researcher at the Radcliffe Department of Medicine at Oxford University, said: "We often hear the sad news of a young person, such as David Frost’s son Miles, dying suddenly in the prime of life, with a post-mortem finding of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

“Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the number one cause of sudden cardiac death in the young.”

Prof Metin Avkiran, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation said: “Every week in the UK, 12 people under the age of 35 die following sudden cardiac arrest. Many of these deaths are due to inherited heart conditions, of which hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common.”

“This exciting research opens up the possibility of using a non-invasive scan to better spot heart muscle changes in people with HCM, find those at risk of a sudden cardiac arrest and ensure they receive the best preventative care.

“Although further work is needed to refine and test this scan, its potential benefit to patients with HCM is huge. This work is an excellent example of cutting-edge, research-led technology that could change the way we diagnose and treat heart and circulatory diseases.”

This work was supported by funding from the British Heart Foundation and the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.