A Heart Test to Save Athletes' Lives

Heart imaging test may help prevent sudden deaths among athletes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Could a relatively simple test for heart abnormalities save athletes' lives? Recent research suggests that it might.

A recent study on pre-participation screenings for sports looked at a new screening that would include a sonogram of the heart, or an echocardiogram.

Athletes in the study completed two screenings, a standard one and one that included a heart sonogram. During the latter screening, more abnormalities were found, including potentially serious heart problems.

The authors of this study suggested that echocardiograms should be standard in pre-participation health screenings for athletes.

"Talk to your doctor about an echocardiogram if you play sports."

Dr. Alexander Kisko, of the Faculty of Health Care in the University in Presov in the Slovak Republic, led this study on pre-participation health screenings in sports.

Although athletes are normally considered to be healthy, sometimes athletes die unexpectedly due to an unforeseen heart problem.

Pre-participation screenings for sports can help to diagnose those heart problems so that athletes can take steps to avoid serious complications.

For this study, 500 healthy athletes between the ages of 16 and 32 were examined between 2011 and 2013.

These participants were an average of 21 years old, and only 54 were women. They participated in sports like football, handball, cycling, basketball and gymnastics.

The athletes were first examined according to the European pre-participation sports screening, which includes taking each participant's health history, physical examination and an electrocardiogram, which measures the heart's electrical activity.

During the first screening, no heart abnormalities were detected.

During the second screening, the participants underwent an echocardiogram, which is a sonogram of the heart.

The echocardiogram allows doctors to diagnose heart problems by creating an image of the heart.

After the echocardiogram, heart abnormalities were found in 14 cases. Seven participants had a mitral valve prolapse, in which one of the valves in the heart does not close properly.

For four of the participants, the heart abnormalities were serious enough to require the athlete to temporarily or permanently stop playing sports.

According to the authors of this study, echocardiograms are cost-effective and a relatively simple way to potentially save lives.

These researchers suggested that a pre-participation sports screening that includes an echocardiogram should be adopted for sports cardiology.

This research was presented at EuroEcho-Imaging 2013 on December 13. The authors did not disclose any funding information or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 13, 2013
Last Updated:
December 17, 2013