Mar 5, 2015A New Push for Cardiac Screenings
This fall, the NCAA’s first chief medical officer will recommend that all athletes at greater risk of suffering cardiac death, including male basketball players, undergo an EKG test to search for abnormalities. But despite Dr. Brian Hainline’s good intentions, the debate about cardiovascular screenings continues.
The NCAA does not currently mandate testing to detect irregularities that could lead to sudden cardiac death. However, a growing number of schools—including half the institutions in the Power Five conferences—have put provisions requiring EKG screening into effect.
“The message is giant: that [EKG] screening can help identify athletes that are at risk for cardiac disease,” Jonanthan Drezner, a University of Washington sports-medicine physician who believes that science supports such testing, told The Wall Street Journal.
The American Heart Association is on the other side of this argument, telling The Wall Street Journal that EKG screenings are prone to false positives.
When told of Hainline’s plan, Barry Maron, a Minneapolis cardiologist who is lead author of the AHA’s position papers on athlete screening, said: “The idea of screening selectively with [EKGs] is an unfortunate decision and initiative that will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary targeting (including by race), confusion, misdiagnosis, over-diagnosis, and ultimately many unnecessary college athlete disqualifications.
Since Hainline joined the NCAA, the governing body has begun requiring member schools to report the cause of athlete deaths for the first time, beginning last year. With no current data to go on, the number of annual cardiovascular deaths in student-athletes is a matter of dispute between those who favor EKG screenings and who are opposed.
While any proposal to mandate cardiac screening would need to be approved by the NCAA membership, Hainline believes now is the time to act.
“Concussions have overshadowed everything,” says Hainline, a New York Unversity Neurologist. “Why aren’t we talking about death?”
In T&C’s December 2013 issue, we asked athletic trainers at both the NCAA Division I and high school levels who conduct heart screens to explain the why and how behind their process.