EKGs for young athletes?


Should young athletes have an electrocardiogram before participating in sports?

A new study says the test will help identify cardiovascular disease that might be missed in a standard physical exam.

According to a story about the study at this medical news site, two in every 100,000 young athletes die from sudden cardiac death each year. Hidden cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes, it says.

Guidlines for screening young athletes now call for a physical examination and medical history. But in Europe, guidelines now call for an electrocardiogram as well. An Italian program of mandatory electrocardiogram screenings is credited for a decrease in sudden cardiac deaths among young athletes, says the story.

The new study looked at college athletes from Harvard University. The 510 athletes in the study had a physical exam and doctors reviewed their medical histories. Then they also had an electrocardiogram and echocardiogram.

The echocardiogram found 11 athletes with cardiac problems, three serious enough to call for restriction of sports activity, said the story. The electrocardiogram found 10 of the 11 conditions, including the three most serious.

The standard physical revealed five of the 11 athletes with cardiac conditions, and missed two of the three most serious cases.

A New York Times story on the same issue reported that, while the value of an electrocardiogram seems certain, some question the expense. But the story cites an analysis that finds the test is cost-effective.

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