July 14, 2011

Sudden Cardiac Deaths in Athletes

(Ivanhoe Newswire)--The sudden collapse of young athletes due to an undiagnosed heart condition is frightening and causing some to begin questioning professional mandates. Some health care professionals have begun calling for mandatory electrocardiogram (ECG) screenings for athletes prior to sports participation while others are challenging the validity of this mandate.

Electrocardiogram screenings are a diagnostic tool that measures the electrical activity of the heart in detail. Cardiologist's interpretations of these details allow the diagnosis of a wide range of heart conditions. These conditions can vary from acute to life threatening.

Dr. Allison Hill and colleagues from Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and Pediatric Cardiology Associates conducted a survey to test the validity of these screenings. They took 53 pediatric cardiologists and asked them to interpret 18 ECGs, eight from children with healthy hearts and ten from children with heart conditions that could lead to sudden cardiac death. The accuracy of the cardiologist's interpretations was low with an average score for overall accuracy of 67 percent.

Dr. Hill was quoted stating, "One problem with interpreting athletes' ECGs is that athletes' hearts grow stronger, may get larger, and beat more slowly. Although these changes are normal for a well-trained athlete, they can look similar on ECG scans to defects that predispose people to sudden cardiac death."

Researchers suggest that because ECGs are not always accurate and can be hard to interpret, may not be the most efficient test for pre-screening athletes for heart conditions. Dr. Hill and her colleagues suggest that, if young athletes are screened this way, the physicians interpreting the ECG should be trained appropriately so as not to misread any of these critical details.

SOURCE: The Journal of Pediatrics, July 14, 2011