Routine Heart Tests for Athletes Would Save Lives

MONDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that routine electrocardiogram testing of young American athletes would save lives and be cost-effective.

The testing isn't routine among athletes in college and high school, apparently because doctors think the benefits -- discovering potentially deadly heart problems -- aren't worth the expense. However, professional athletes are often required to undergo the tests.

"According to our model, ECG together with a history and physical exam is the preferred strategy for screening athletes for underlying heart disease. This would save the most lives at a cost that is generally agreed to be acceptable for the U.S. health-care system," Dr. Matthew Wheeler, a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine and first author of the study, said in a statement.

An Italian study found that sudden deaths during competitions in that country fell by 90% after routine tests were put into place.

The authors of the new study used statistics from the Italian researchers and then adjusted them to account for variations in the United States.

While it's uncommon for athletes to die from sudden death, several conditions -- including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart) -- can lead to it. An estimated one in every 500 people has the condition; doctors recommend athletes stop competing if they have it.

The study appears in the March 2 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

-- Randy Dotinga

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SOURCE: Stanford University School of Medicine, press release, March 1, 2010

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