Sudden Death in Athletes – Not so Rare!
The leading medical cause of death in athletes is Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). Although the purpose of the athlete Pre-Participation Exam (PPE), including review of the patient and family medical history and a brief physical exam, is to identify cardiovascular abnormalities that could progress to SCA, recent research has shown that the PPE does a particularly poor job of identifying risks. Conventional wisdom has proclaimed that including an Electrocardiogram (ECG) into the PPE to aid in finding those at-risk athletes is difficult, SCA is a rare event, and faulty initial evaluations (false positives) lead to unnecessary costs that would bankrupt the nation. But, as in most areas of health and science, technology and research can herald a new era. It’s time to take a fresh look at the value that can be garnered from the low-cost and highly sensitive ECG.
Who’s at Risk?Many screening organizations are reporting meaningful data on detection rates for cardiac abnormalities. It’s common to find that 2-3% of all participants actually have an ECG abnormality, compared to approximately 30 % of all participants who report abnormal findings in their medical history. Most of these abnormalities are unlikely to lead to SCA or disqualification from sports, but a significant number of them will impact the health of the participants over the course of their lives. Early detection can have a very positive impact on their lifetime health management. About 10 % of the abnormal group, or 1 in about 250 participants, have abnormalities that are strongly associated with SCA and follow-up is highly recommended. Risks are also stratified by gender, ethnicity and sport:
|6.7x||Men's Basketball||All Sports|
Where Do We Start?
Available budget resources will guide how you begin a screening program that includes ECG. We recommend that you initially gain experience and proficiency screening the higher-risk sports, with considerations for gender and ethnicity, with the goal of potentially saving the most lives possible with the available resources. As efficiency and organizational support grow, you can extend the screening to a broader segment of your athletes. The total cost of an ECG should be in the $10-$25 range, depending upon your providers – a fraction of the cost of a pair of athletic shoes.
What ECG system should we use?
Dr. Hadley has over 30 years of hands-on experience blending customer needs with information technology through research and development. He spent nine years as Vice President of Research and Development for Quinton Cardiology. In this role, Dr. Hadley was responsible for rebuilding the engineering team, establishing robust new product architectures and developing the next generation of Quinton and Burdick diagnostic ECG products.