FRIDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- About 76 young U.S. athletes collapse and die from sudden cardiac arrest during practice or a game every year, which has led some experts to call for mandatory electrocardiograms to screen players for possibly fatal heart defects.
But a recent study found that pediatric heart specialists don't always get it right when reading these tests, known as ECGs.
"What this does is add another layer of complication and confusion to the controversy," said first study author Dr. Allison Hill, a pediatric resident at Stanford University when she did the research. "Not only do ECGS not always show diseases that could lead to sudden cardiac death, but the people reading them are not always interpreting them correctly."
During an ECG, electrodes attached to the chest and limbs measure electrical impulses generated as the heart beats. ECGs can detect heart rhythm abnormalities and other conditions that could cause the heart to stop suddenly.
The most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young people is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle that makes it more difficult to pump blood, Hill said. Other causes include myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which can lead to excessively rapid heart rate.
This study found that pediatric cardiologists missed dangerous heart abnormalities about 32 percent of the time and mistakenly diagnosed a heart abnormality in 30 percent of cases. High rates of inappropriate sports guidance could result from the errors, the researchers said.
For the study, recently published online in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers asked 53 pediatric cardiologists to interpret 18 ECGs from teens with and without heart abnormalities. On average, doctors correctly interpreted 12.4 ECGs.
The doctors were also asked to determine if it was sa
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