ECG: A Preventative Tool for the Heart?

Rheumatic heart disease can be detected sooner with electrocardiograms

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) After a bout with rheumatic fever, heart valves in children can become damaged. The key to treating rheumatic heart disease before serious complications occur is detecting it early.

Investigators have found that routinely screening children with simple, non-invasive echocardiogram (ECG) increases the likelihood of detecting rheumatic heart disease early by three-fold as compared to standard clinical exams.

Rheumatic heart disease affects about 15 million people worldwide and is more common in developing countries. It is caused by repeated exposure to strep throat, which is easily treated with antibiotics.

"Ask your doctor if an ECG is needed.."

Andrea Beaton, MD, a lead author from the Children's National Medical Center, said that researchers found that many children with clinically silent rheumatic heart disease would not have been diagnosed without an ECG. She said that the ECG screening allows clinicians to identify at-risk children early so that they can be treated before more serious disease or complications occur.

During the study, researchers screened 5,000 school-aged children in Uganda, finding that 130 of them had abnormal ECGs. The children with abnormal ECGs were evaluated at a hospital, and 72 children were confirmed to have rheumatic heart disease. Only 23 of those children met the diagnosis criteria for clinical evaluation alone.

Investigators suggest focusing screenings, including an ECG and a comprehensive follow up, on children from lower socioeconomic groups at the age of 10.

"Our study supports the World Heart Federation's new guidelines for using echocardiograms to diagnose (rheumatic heart disease), so our hope is that more countries will adopt system-wide screening programs for this preventable disease," said Craig Sable, MD, a senior author and pediatric cardiologist at Children's National Medical Center.

The study was recently published in American Heart Association journal Circulation.

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Review Date: 
June 22, 2012
Last Updated:
June 24, 2012