Widespread ECG screening may not help young athletes

Research has shown that the chance of athletes ages 8 to 35 dying of a sudden cardiac arrest is similar to their chance of dying from a lightning strike. People in that age group are far more likely to die from cancer or automobile accidents.

“When the athlete is part of a middle or high school community, and the death occurs in the public arena of a sports competition, they capture a lot of attention and concern about what to do to prevent such events,” says Dr. Benjamin Levine, a cardiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, a collaboration between UT Southwestern and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

Recently some clinicians have recommended that every young athlete be screened with an electrocardiogram (ECG), which measures electrical activity of the heart to identify some of the inherited causes of sudden cardiac death.  Although such an approach will certainly pick up some athletes at risk, what to do with them is not so clear.

“We don't have a clear idea of what to do with otherwise healthy asymptomatic young people who have abnormalities picked up on routine screening,” says Dr. Levine. “Many who are not at risk may be excluded from participation in sport, and for those who are excluded, it is not clear whether their outcome is changed. Individuals may want the reassurance of an ECG, but it is premature to mandate ECG screening for the broad population of athletes until more data are available.”

Visit http://www.utsouthwestern.org/heartlungvascular to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services for heart, lung and vascular diseases and conditions.

Media Contact: LaKisha Ladson

Return to May 2011 News Tips

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