LOS ANGELES — Screening young athletes for heart abnormalities with an electrocardiogram test may be a cost-effective way to identify at-risk youth and save lives, according to a new study.
Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine examined sudden cardiac deaths among U.S. high school and college athletes age 14 to 22 and conducted a calculation to see what influence various types of screenings would have.
They found that adding an ECG to two common screens already in place — a physical and taking a health history of each athlete focusing on cardiovascular fitness -- could be expected to save about two years of life per 1,000 athletes at a cost of $89 per athlete. (Analyses of this type commonly refer to years of life saved instead of referring to individual lives.)
The finding, released Monday and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was based on a similar, 2006 analysis that found that a mandatory, nationwide pre-participation screening program for young athletes in Italy lowered the incidence of sudden cardiac death by 89 percent over 25 years.
The authors concluded that adding ECG tests to ones already in place for young athletes was not prohibitive and should be considered.
"This information should not be a prescription -- we're not telling people what to do," said study lead author Dr. Matthew Wheeler, a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.
The highly publicized and poignant incidents of young athletes dying on the field due to undetected heart abnormalities has led to a call from some for routine ECG screenings.
An ECG test could identify conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle that makes the heart work harder to pump blood, a common cause of sudden death among young athletes.