Mar 21, 2016
ECGs and Sudden Cardiac Death

Sudden cardiac death claims, on average, one competitive athlete in the United States every three days. Often, the cause is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that has gone undetected. Northeastern University Team Physician Gianmichael Corrado is trying to change that.

According to an article from Northeastern University, the two primary screening methods currently used for heart abnormalities are a 14-element history and physical exam developed by the American Heart Association and electrocardiograms (EKG). The history has been criticized as being “too vague” and EKGs have a high rate of false positives.

Corrado says echocardiograms are a faster, cheaper, and more accurate way to detect heart abnormalities.

“Echo, done regularly, shows how much a heart can change structurally over time,” says Corrado. “So if someone has an underlying pathological condition, you can track any abnormal thickening and misalignment of the muscle fibers and provide treatment before it’s too late.”

In a 2014 study, 65 male Northeastern athletes were put through three screening processes—the history and exam, an EKG, and an ECG. The number of false positives was cut by one third.

“The screening proposed by Dr. Corrado is quick and has the potential to prevent an athlete with a heart abnormality from dying while exercising,” says Jonathan Finnoff, Medical Director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, in Minneapolis, and a Team Physician for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx. “Although further research is required, performing it during the pre-participation physical exam may enable physicians to correctly identify structural abnormalities of the heart, helping to lower the risk of (sudden cardiac death) and the need for unnecessary tests.


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