Sports screening packages can include lots of different tests, so it can be difficult to know which ones are most important for you. The reason we perform a variety of checks is that there are so many factors that can affect performance and health in different athletes.
What is the Purpose of Sports Screening?
The factors that we consider during sports screening are shaped by the purpose of these check ups. The aim of sports screening is to detect:
- Any issues that could be affecting your performance
- Health problems that could put you at risk when you exercise
- Anything that could put you at risk in the future
Screening is there to prevent problems. It could help you to avoid injuries by identifying a nutritional deficiency. It could help you to get treatment for a condition you weren’t aware of, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. In some cases, sports screening could even save your life by detecting a heart problem such as an arrhythmia or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that could be triggered by exercise.
Sports Screening Packages
Sports screening can focus on different areas. The best screening package for you will depend on the aspects of your health or performance that you’re most interested in. For example, if you’ve had an injury in the past you might want to visit a specialist in orthopaedics or sports medicine to have that area checked. However, most sports screening aims to give a more general overview of your health and fitness. If you have sports screening at the Cardiac Screen clinic then the main focus will be on your heart as cardiovascular health is the most important factor for most athletes.
Cardiac health is an important part of most sports screening because:
- A strong, healthy heart is essential for good aerobic performance
- Your heart needs to be able to work harder when you’re exercising, whether you need a quick response or lots of stamina
- Some potentially serious heart conditions can be triggered by exercise, so you need to know if you’re at risk
- Some athletic bodies and events require you to have cardiac screening before you can participate, to make sure that you can do so safely
We have lots of different ways to assess your cardiovascular health during sports screening. You might have some or all of these tests depending on the screening package you choose.
- ECG to measure the electrical activity in your heart and look for signs of heart conditions
- Ambulatory ECG to monitor your heart over 24 hours
- Exercise ECG to check how well your heart copes with physical activity
- Echocardiogram to look at the structure and movement of your heart
As well as checking your heart, we can also assess the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The main tests for this are:
- Blood pressure check
- Cholesterol profile
People who exercise regularly often have good blood pressure and low cholesterol levels, but if yours are higher than normal it could mean you are more likely to develop heart disease. Changing your diet or lifestyle could help you to reduce the risk so you stay fit and healthy.
You probably already know how important your lungs are when you’re exercising. Just as you feel your heart beat faster, you’ll be aware that you need to breathe faster and deeper when you’re working out. Sports screening can check for any issues that could be limiting your performance. Having these lung tests is most important if you have a history of smoking, lung disease or breathing problems. You might also want to include them in your screening package if you feel that something is wrong with your breathing when you exercise.
- Spirometry and lung function tests can measure your lung capacity and how well they’re working
- Chest X-rays can be performed if there is a risk of lung damage
Your weight can have a big impact on your performance in many sports. It may even affect your participation if you have weight bands in your sport. Body Mass Index or BMI can be a good way to check that you are at a healthy weight for your height. We can quickly calculate it from these two measurements. A healthy BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9. However, it’s important to remember that some athletes will have higher BMIs because they have a lot of muscle. You’ll get more personalised advice on your weight when you are screened.
Eating well makes a big difference to your performance. Tops athletes have to be very careful about what they eat and when. Sports screening can assess how well your diet is working for you by checking the levels of certain nutrients.
- Vitamin D, which is essential for bones and the most likely nutritional deficiency in the UK
- Calcium and phosphate levels, which are also vital for healthy bones
- Other important minerals that can be difficult to get from your diet
- Essential Fatty Acids, the fats we can’t produce for ourselves and can only get from our food, which are especially important for athletes as they can help reduce inflammation and protect our joints
Testing for diabetes is very easy as we just measure the amount of sugar in your urine sample. It’s always worth including this test in sports screening as it could have such a big impact on your performance. If you’re diagnosed with diabetes then you might need to change the way you train to ensure your blood sugar levels remain healthy. You may need medication and you’ll have to think more carefully about your diet too. However, knowing that you have diabetes will help you to exercise more effectively and to keep yourself safe.
Many other factors will be considered during sports screening too. Any aspect of your health can have an impact on your performance and many conditions could be affected by the way you exercise. A typical screening package might include these general health checks:
- Liver and kidney function
- Thyroid function
- Full blood count to check for problems like anaemia or infections
- Checking for signs of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein in your blood, which could indicate an injury or over-training
- Other tests to reveal underlying health problems that could be affecting your performance or wellbeing
What factor do you think is most important in your sport?