Heart Screening Spots Athletes at Risk of Sudden Death

But numbers are so low routine echocardiograms may be superfluous

MONDAY, Sept. 11 (HealthDay News) -- A national athletic cardiovascular screening program in Italy has successfully detected young athletes who are at risk for sudden cardiac death during competitive sports, researchers report in the September issue of the European Heart Journal.

Antonio Pelliccia, M.D., of the Institute of Sports Medicine and Science in Rome, Italy, and colleagues studied echocardiogram and other pre-participation screening data on 4,450 athletes eligible for the national teams.

While none of the athletes had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, 12 athletes had heart anomalies, including four with borderline left ventricular wall thickness of 13 millimeters. Two of these were diagnosed with definitive or potential hypertrophic cardiomyopathy within eight years.

"The Italian national pre-participation screening program including 12-lead echocardiogram appears to be efficient in identifying young athletes with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, leading to their timely disqualification from competitive sports," the authors write. "These data also suggest that routine echocardiography is not an obligatory component of broad-based screening programs."

In an accompanying editorial, Nicole M. Panhuyzen-Goedkoop, M.D., of the Heart Centre Radboud University Hospital in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and a colleague note that "routine use of transthoracic echocardiography in black athletes is justified" as black athletes may be at higher risk than others.

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