Heart Test Spots Sudden Death Risk in Young Athletes

FRIDAY April 27, 2012 -- Electrocardiograph (EKG) screening of young athletes can help identify those at risk for sudden cardiac death, according to a new study.

Researchers screened nearly more than 1,300 young athletes and conducted EKGs on 586 of them based on medical history, family history, a physical exam or prior EKG. Six athletes were found to have a heart disorder known to cause sudden cardiac death.

The study looked at how sensitive and specific the EKGs were as tests. Sensitivity refers to how confidently a doctor can rule out a problem and that it isn't a "false negative." Specificity refers to how sure a doctor can be that a positive test result is accurate.

For medical history alone, the sensitivity and specificity to detect heart disorders linked to sudden cardiac death were 33 percent and 69 percent. For physical exam, the figures were 16 percent and 91 percent. For EKG, sensitivity was 100 percent and specificity was 95 percent.

Half of disorders known to cause sudden cardiac death were detected by EKG alone, said Dr. Jessie Fudge, who is completing a fellowship in primary care sports medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"[EKG] screening, when interpreted with modern criteria for youth athletes, provides better sensitivity and specificity compared to current screening guidelines," Fudge said in American Medical Society for Sports Medicine news release. "The addition of [EKG] screening to the pre-participation exam may better identify athletes at risk for sudden cardiac death."

On Tuesday, Fudge's study received an award for excellence in sports medicine research at the society's annual meeting in Atlanta.

Study data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about sudden cardiac arrest.

Posted: April 2012


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