A study of teen soccer players has found pluses and minuses for in-depth health screening. The tests didn't detect any signs of trouble in some athletes who later died—but allowed others with serious problems to get treated and back in the game. The report released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine raises questions about whether expensive testing for athletes should be required.
Cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heart abruptly stops beating. It’s rare in young people, especially supposedly healthy athletes.
But sometimes strenuous effort triggers an underlying heart problem. Finding young athletes most at risk before a collapse is debated: Should EKGs be added to all pre-sports check-ups? The American Heart Association doesn't recommend them, but European guidelines do.
In the new study, British researchers found that the majority of teen players were healthy. But 1 in 266 had silent heart disorders that put them at risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
Many of those high-risk players had surgery and safely returned to play, says Dr. Sanjay Sharma, a cardiology professor. Sadly, some died. As a result, Sharma says the British soccer program will start re-checking players' hearts at ages 18, 20, and 25.
The American Heart Association recommends a thorough physical exam and detailed family and personal medical history for every athlete, but not an automatic EKG.
The extra screening can be costly—$25 to $100. Automatic EKGs aren't practical for millions of high school and college athletes—especially since false alarms can require pricier further exams.
There's no easy answer on which tests to perform. Only God knows the days He has ordained for each person. (Psalm 139:16) But screening aside, health authorities agree that defibrillators (devices that shock the heart with electricity) need to be available at all public venues so that anyone—athlete or not—can receive quick help if heart trouble strikes.
(AP Photo: Dr. Sanjay Sharma speaks discusses a study about procedures that can help identify athletes who are at risk for heart-problems.)