No proof that heart screening of athletes would save lives: study
Published 21/04/2016 | 02:30
Young athletes should not undergo routine screening to prevent sudden cardiac arrest because it is not proven to save lives, according to a new study.
The findings show the harms outweigh any benefits, and no robust evidence exists to confirm it actually prevents deaths, according to the study authors at the Belgian Health Care Knowledge Centre.
Around 0.001pc of young athletes die from sudden cardiac arrest every year, often caused by an underlying cardiovascular condition, the British Medical Journal reports.
Pre-participation screening is an attempt to identify these conditions and prevent deaths. However, there are disagreements about the harms and benefits.
Researchers carried out the study of screening programmes in non-professional athletes aged 18-34 years.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Deirdre Ward, a cardiologist at the Centre for Cardiovascular Risk in Younger Persons at Tallaght Hospital in Dublin, said the evidence backing mandatory screening is slim.
"It sounds like a no-brainer to test everyone, but it is not as simple as that," she said.
"You could end up banning 10 times as many people from sport as those who have conditions. When we meet families where a sudden death has occurred they want every child in the country be screened. The centre we run is for families with a one-in-two risk, rather than one-in-1,000 risk."
ECGs don't pick up all symptoms associated with cardiac disease, and the sensitivity of this test is generally low. Overall, 25pc of people with a condition that may lead to a sudden cardiac death would not be identified, say the authors, and there are a high number of false positives.