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Test athlete hearts call

Tuesday September 8th, 2009

Young athletes should be routinely tested for heart abnormalities to prevent sudden death, researchers warned yesterday.

The conclusion from the studies, the first of a series carried out between the British Journal of Sports Medicine and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), comes after researchers in Holland examined 371 athletes, aged between 12 and 35, over two years.

They found that ECG produced false positive results for 47 athletes (11 per cent) and detected problems in a further 10 (two per cent). Four of the latter group were restricted from further participation in sport.

"Healthcare governing bodies need to be convinced that now is the time for universal ECG screening of all young athletes and make the necessary provisions for nationwide screening programmes to commence," say the authors.

The number of screens needed to pick up one athlete with potentially lethal heart disease was 143, which is well within acceptable limits for any screening programme, they add.

In a second review, British researchers claimed that questionnaires and physical examinations alone were not effective at discovering if someone had a potentially fatal heart abnormality.

They warned the use of defribillators at sporting events was not viable, because the survival rate is so low, the research shows.

If a cardiologist carries out an ECG check, the false positive rate can be as low as two per cent, they argue, while a well-organised national programme would be cost effective "especially when considering the devastating effect of a sudden death in a young athlete", they add.

Screening for potentially deadly heart abnormalities in athletes before they embark on a career in competitive sports has been the subject of debate for many years, with critics arguing that ECGs pick up too many "normal irregularities" induced by the body's adaptation the demands of competitive sports.

In 2005, The Lausanne recommendations - a common European protocol - advocated taking a personal and medical history, a physical examination, and an ECG for every young competitive athlete.

Research: The Lausanne recommendations: a Dutch experience Br J Sport Med 2009; 43: 708-15 Review: Electrocardiographic screening in athletes: the time for universal screening

Br J Sports Med 2009; 43: 663-8 Editorial: Prevention of sudden cardiac death in athletes: new data and modern perspectives confront challenges in the 21st century Br J Sports Med 2009; 43: 625-6

Tags: Europe | Fitness | Heart Health | UK News | World Health

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