Should young athletes undergo cardiac screening before participating in sports?

Posted by • November 19th, 2013

The director of a high school athletic program is considering implementation of a requirement that all student athletes undergo cardiac screening by a physician before participating in any school sponsored athletic team. Several teachers at the high school have been advocating for a mandatory screening program after seeing a television news report that featured a student from a nearby high school who died from a sudden cardiac arrest while playing basketball. However, coaches have expressed concern to the athletic director that instituting such a requirement would discourage students from playing organized sports and could be a financial burden for some families.

What would you recommend?  Our latest Clinical Decisions article presents four expert opinions on this controversial topic.

Should young athletes be required to undergo cardiac screening before participating in sports? If an athlete does undergo screening, should the screening involve only a history and physical examination, or should electrocardiography (ECG) also be required?

We invite you to review the arguments, choose a treatment option, and share your comments. The poll is open until December 4.

5 Responses to “Should young athletes undergo cardiac screening before participating in sports?”

  1. Lesley Keegan says:

    I would like to see studies undertaken on YSCD of young athletes for all deaths, not only those occurring on field. I think you will find the US figures of 150 deaths per year are grossly underestimated.

    Our son Nye had played football (soccer) for 11 years and passed away in his sleep aged 22 from HCM. He did have symptoms which were overlooked due to his overall good health and fitness. There is no previous family history of HCM.

    HCM is the major cause of YSCD in young athletes (60-80%). Regular cardiovascular training further damages the heart muscle and death can happen at any time, not just on the field. An ECG will show changes in 95% of HCM sufferers.

    I fully support ECG’s for young athletes.

  2. Sharon Bates says:

    We at the Anthony Bates Foundation have been providing Cardiac Screenings for youth since 2001. 13 years after the death of my son, Anthony, we are consistently finding over 10% of the youth screened have some sort of heart anomaly. Nearly 5% of those screened have a potential life threatening heart issue. The costs of ECG & Echo testing in a mass process is less than $100 each. By starting with ECG testing the cost would be less than $25 each … what is a life worth to your community? Please take a stand and make a difference by saving the future of our nation! Children are worth more than $25 each … all children, not just athletes.

  3. Debbie Goyne says:

    As a parent who lost a healthy 20 year old son, a college athlete who collapsed Jan 18, 2013, due to an undetected heart condition…I agree that EKGs should be required with athletic physicals. Standard physicals find 1% of heart problems, EKGs can find 89% …How can it even be a question? However, as a retired high school coach I can assure you that if I had known about the possibility of ANY of my athletes, especially my precious child, could die from an undiagnosed heart condition even tho we HAD 7 physicals in 9 years…I would have the EKG done…. We just didn’t know…if the true argument is one of cost….please know this….an EKG costs anywhere from $15-$250…a funeral cost $15,000- $20,000. That’s should be explanation enough.

  4. nola frattini says:

    yes, definitely! my grandson was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomiopathy at 12 years of age, after being automatically screened in milan, italy. he was regularly playing football for jnr ac milan team and would probably have been another statistic if not for the screening. all young boys and girls undergo this before they can play any sport. of course there difficulties after being diagnosed with any serious heart problem, but at least we still have him with us, the alternative of not having him with us is unbearable. my heart goes out to all parents and families who have tragically lost beautiful young lives far too soon, which may have been avoided by screening.

  5. After losing my super fit 21 year old son, he suffered cardiac arrest during a football game on the 14/4/2012 I strongly believe that screening be routine including history, physical and ECG which is a 15 minute test and painless to complete. My sons reason for suffering cardiac arrest were unknown as they couldn’t find anything wrong with his heart, however in many cases life threatening conditions can be prevented with correct thorough medical testing. I was also old that had there been access to a defibrillator that day perhaps my son would be alive today. YES to medical screening!!!!!