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2012-07-19T12:44:00 Updated 2015-02-19T02:08:30

Health checks for Hammers

West Ham United's players and staff have undergone a series of tests to make sure they are in the best possible condition ahead of the 2012/13 Barclays Premier League season.

The Hammers' Chadwell Heath training ground was visited by a range of healthcare professionals on Thursday, including staff from the Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) heart screening charity, an optician and a podiatrist.

Manager Sam Allardyce, who underwent heart surgery after being diagnosed with a blocked artery in 2009, was among those to undergo a electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess the electrical activity of his heart.

"To be honest, I am an expert on this and have had more tests than most of the lads due to the blockage I had in my artery a few years ago," said Big Sam. "I think that, as always in life, prevention is much better than cure and having the lads go through this screening is a good thing.

"While it can't cover everything and never will, it helps us to see if everybody is as fit as they think they are. It is a fantastic operation run by experts carrying out ECGs and echocardiograms (ECHO), while we have the optician and podiatrist working next door.

"It gives us a good look at the lads' condition and if we find anything we can quickly deal with it, but I'm sure everybody will be clear."

Big Sam, who is well-known for his meticulous approach to every fact of football management, said heart screening was a vital part of ensuring players are fit and healthy before they take to the pitch.

"The amount of punishment the players go through in terms of physical activity means they max their heart-rate on quite a few occasions so it's very important to check there are no defects there if you are taking it to that extreme on a regular basis.

"This screening is obviously very, very important in finding any deficiencies in any of the players."

Heart screening

The CRY team was headed by Professor Sanjay Sharma, a Professor of Inherited Cardiovascular Conditions and Sports Cardiology at St George's Hospital in London.

Professor Sharma explained the process and reason for screening players and revealed that his team had visited many of the country's other leading clubs, including Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

"We test several football clubs and it's a pleasure to be involved at West Ham," he said. "We are screening the players for conditions that may predispose to sudden death during sport.

"I'm pleased to report that these events happen very rarely, but having seen the very public cardiac arrest of Fabrice Muamba, there is a heightened awareness of this problem.

"Most of the conditions that cause problems in young athletes usually affect the electricity and muscle of the heart. Unfortunately, about about 80 per cent have no warning symptoms of the condition.

"The process has seen the players fill out health questionnaires asking specifically about cardiac symptoms and about any family history of cardiac disease, because most of the conditions that cause death are hereditary.

"We then did an ECG to look for electrical faults and a cardiac ultrasound to look for any structural abnormalities. Together, these tests will excluse an abnormality in 80 per cent of cases."

Club doctor Richard Weiler said the tests carried out this week were all of great importance.

"There are lots of different forms of screening that we do to make sure that the players are fit and healthy for the season and that everything is working properly," said Dr Weiler. "Primarily its around reducing risk and treating anything that needs treating so that they are in peak physical condition when the season starts.

"There have been a lot of tests this week. We were visited by an anti-doping expert who warned the players on what they can and cannot take because the rules are very strict.

"We also did blood screening as well as functional, fitness and musculo-skeletal screening and got them all to see the dentist, optician and podiatrist to make sure their tools of the trade are in perfect working condition.

"There are not too many parts of them that escape a thorough check!"

Striker Carlton Cole was among those to have his heart screened at Chadwell Heath on Friday.

"It is really important that this screening is carried out," said the No9. "As footballers, the fitness of our bodies is something we know has to be right to be able to do what we do, but I think everyone, not just athletes, should have this sort of screening and for it to be available to all.

"When the screening is being done, you are a bit nervous! You look at the reaction of the person doing the test, so if they nod and smile then you know you are OK for now! But in all seriousness, it is very important and I think the case of Fabrice Muamba highlighted how important it is to have checks as often as you can as you just never know."

"The people who came here today were very good with us and they are a charitable organisation and they are doing important work, so hopefully we can help them by raising awareness."

*To find out more about the work of Cardiac Risk in the Young, click here.

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