Do NFL players face a greater risk of heart disease? An Internet search for "NFL Heart Disease" brought up:
• A 2005 Associated Press story that 49ers lineman Thomas Herrion had heart disease and evidence of previous heart trouble when he collapsed and died after a game.
• A 2008 Science Daily story about a Mayo Clinic study that found increased risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure in former NFL players.
• A 2009 Science Daily story about a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center study that found former players didn't have the same risk factors for heart disease as nonathletes.
So what to make of all that? I'm not sure, other than when you're talking about the heart and players who carry more than 300 pounds on their bodies, it's probably best not to take chances. So it was welcome to hear the Seahawks offered free heart screenings to coaches, scouts and former players recently, especially given that many former NFL players earned relatively little during their short careers and often have inadequate medical coverage.
The heart screening was provided by Dr. Brad Bale and advanced nurse practitioner Amy Doneen, who specialize in heart disease prevention, and SonoSite, a Seattle-area company which sponsors the Seahawks. The test is easy and takes about 5-10 minutes, using a portable ultrasound device to look inside the carotid artery.
Bale says the test examines the passage of the artery, but more importantly, the lining of the artery wall and whether there is any plaque behind it. If the artery wall cracks, a blood clot will form and block blood flow, causing a heart attack or stroke. The ultrasound test, he says, is a far better indication of any heart risk than other tests. He says it's also relatively cheap at less than $200. Better yet, he says risks are very treatable and can be preventable -- but you have to treat them before there is an attack, not after (when, obviously, you may not have a chance for any sort of care).
I went to the screening expecting to see obese, aging players with readings off the charts. But fortunately, I didn't see that. Instead, being there reaffirmed that looking fit or being physically fit is no guarantee you don't face a heart risk, regardless of your career. And you shouldn't need Google or Bing to know that.