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Sudden Death in Young Athletes Not Identified in Screening Process: Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation

12:38 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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(WUSA 9) -- Are pre-screening health exams doing enough to protect young athletes? 

The screening process for young athletes has been unsuccessful in detecting heart abnormalities, according to the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF).

What's even more alarming is that players were allowed to participate, despite warning signs of cardiovascular problems.

Researchers at MHIF studied a condition called aortic stenosis.  Aortic stenosis is considered rare, but a major reason for sudden deaths in young athletes.  The condition is when the aortic heart valve does not fully open.  It becomes a serious danger when the aortic wall ruptures.

There were 44 out of 2,588 sudden deaths studied by the MHIF that were linked to aortic stenosis or aortic disease, with 19 being directly linked to aortic stenosis, and 18 of the aortic stenosis deaths occurring just after exercise. 

The two sports that saw the highest number of sudden deaths were football and basketball, with males being significantly more affected than females.

So why don't athletes get screened by cardiologists?

For 34 of the deaths, the MHIF found that 15 athletes were screened by a cardiologist.  Yet cardiologist screenings did not seem to prevent sudden death, even when two of the athletes visited a cardiologist just one day before their deaths.

So why not try an even more aggressive method, like ECG screenings?

ECG tests look for problems with the heart's electrical activity and search for the source of unexplained chest pain.

Even using history, a physical exam or 12-lead ECG screening, cardiovascular disease would only be detected in one out of 1 million athletes, according to researchers at MHIF.

"This is a controversial issue because some are suggesting that all young competitive athletes should be screened with a 12-lead ECG screening, which would be a massive and costly undertaking," says the study's lead author, Barry J. Maron, MD.

With only about 30% of athletes benefiting from ECG screenings, Maron does not think the rate is high enough to alter the nation's current screening methods.

 

 

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