Jan 29, 2015
Heart Screens Studied at Texas H.S.

By Mike Phelps

In 2007, the Texas state legislature allocated $1 million for a statewide study to determine whether or not electrocardiograms (EKGs) and echocardiograms should be mandatory for all students in Texas. Children’s Medical Center in Dallas was selected to conduct the study, along with researchers in Austin and Houston. Those researchers then chose students from Garland (Texas) Independent School District to participate in the study. Here’s the latest on heart screenings at high schools nationwide.

HeartScreen America estimates that over 350,000 Americans die each year from sudden cardiac arrest, with 14,000 of those deaths occurring with children and young people. To make matters worse, many of those victims never know they’re at risk until it’s too late.

Although there have been no sudden cardiac deaths in the past 10 years in Garland, more than a dozen of the 237 students tested either already have or will receive notices encouraging them to follow up with a doctor. “It could save lives,” Garland Superintendent Curtis Culwell told the Dallas Morning News. “I’d like to see the state help make it available to every student-athlete.”

EKGs trace electrical activity in the heart, while echocardiograms use sound waves to create a picture of the heart, and are often recommended after abnormal EKG results. An EKG at a private practice can cost anywhere from $35 to $300 without insurance. An echocardiogram, meanwhile, can run up to $1,000.

Maggie Willis, Garland’s Director of Health Services, told the Dallas Morning News the state government would have to subsidize a wide-ranging screening program. In the same story, Jeff Kloster, the Texas Education Agency’s Associate Commisioner, says testing large numbers of students at once could help drive down costs.

While Garland was the first school district to be involved in the study, it won’t be the last. The Children’s Medical center hopes to find two or three more diverse school districts in the state to participate before final reports are finished in the summer.

The movement to make heart screenings mandatory for students–particularly student-athletes–is not, however, limited to Texas. Last spring, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association teamed up with Johns Hopkins University’s Heart Hype Program to offer free screenings to up to 1,000 athletes during the state’s high school track and field championship meet. The screenings included weight and blood pressure measurements, as well as an echocardiogram.

Following the recent death of a San Francisco-area high school football player, Bay Area parents have begun to lobby for heart screenings for teenage athletes, according to San Francisco’s KGO-TV. The proposal is not a new one to the area, but past opponents have argued that the movement doesn’t justify the costs, as deaths are relatively rare. A new study, however, could help determine if screenings would be cost effective.

To read a T&C feature about the value of heart screens titled “Following Their Hearts,” click here.

Mike Phelps is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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