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Experts Urge School Screening of Athletes' Hearts

SUNDAY Nov. 15, 2009 -- A new, inexpensive screening method could help reduce the risk for sudden cardiac death among high school athletes, U.S. researchers report.

Athletic trainers at 10 high schools in Houston used a laptop system to perform electrocardiograms (EKGs) on 2,057 student athletes. The results, which were transmitted to a cardiologist, revealed 186 athletes with abnormal EKGs. All but 13 of them received subsequent echocardiograms.

Among the findings:

  • Three students had serious cardiac conditions, including right ventricular cardiomyopathy, which is abnormal enlargement, thickening or stiffening of heart muscle; coarctation, a narrowing, of the aorta; and non-compaction cardiomyopathy, a rare genetic condition caused by failure of myocardial development during embryo development.
  • Eight students had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an electrical defect that can cause arrhythmia. They were referred to pediatricians.
  • Mitral valve prolapse was detected in 17 students, and six were diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension.
  • Two students were found to have bicuspid aortic valves, and six had mild to moderate vascular regurgitation.
  • Three students with hypertension had concentric left ventricular hypertension and were referred for treatment.
  • Eleven students were told they could not participate in competitive athletics.

Performing EKGs in schools would cost less than $5 per student, and the EKG laptop equipment could be provided to school districts for about $500, according to Dr. Thomas DeBauche, of Cypress Cardiology in Houston.

Though school-based EKG screening would not eliminate sudden cardiac death among high school athletes, it could significantly reduce the risk, the researchers said.

The study was to be presented Sunday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting, in Orlando, Fla.

More information

The Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome Foundation has more about sudden cardiac death in young people.

Posted: November 2009


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