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ECG screens for young athletes don’t prevent sudden deaths

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted March 25, 2013

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Sudden death in young athletes due to cardiovascular disease will not be prevented by giving everyone in that population an electrocardiography screen, as some medical experts have suggested, researchers say. The findings were presented March 10 at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions.

Researchers examined the forensic case records of the U.S. National Registry of Sudden Death in Athletes from 1986 to 2011. They assessed deaths among Minnesota high school athletes (link).

During that study period, there were more than 4.44 million high school sports participants in the state. Researchers found that 13 sudden deaths occurred in Minnesota high school athletes related to physical exertion. Of those deaths, seven were during competition and six were during practice. The most common sports involved in sudden death were basketball, cross-country running and wrestling.

An autopsy documented cardiac causes of death in seven of the 13 fatalities. In only four athletes (which is equivalent to 1 in 1 million sports participants) could the responsible cardiovascular diseases be reliably detected by history, a physical exam or a standard ECG screen, the researchers said.

They said the “very low event rate” doesn’t warrant changing the current national screening strategy. Currently, high school athletes’ health is assessed by a medical professional during a physical exam and a review of the individual’s clinical history.

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