ANN ARBOR, Mich. Seemingly every year there are reports of a young, apparently healthy athlete dying on the court or playing field.
The sudden death of Wes Leonard, a junior at Fennville High School, who died of cardiac arrest from an enlarged heart on March 3, may have parents and coaches wondering if enough is being done to identify athletes at risk for dying suddenly.
"We would like to develop a better screening program to help prevent sudden cardiac death, but there is not enough rigorous data to support what that should look like," says Sanjaya Gupta, M.D., clinical lecturer in the Division of Electrophysiology at the University of Michigan Health System.
Some communities have begun programs to perform more extensive heart testing, including electrocardiograms and sometimes echocardiograms on students before they compete.
Yet a task force organized by the American Heart Association to evaluate pre-participation screening practices has not supported such community programs due to a lack of evidence that they are able to reduce the number of sudden deaths.
A large trial recently completed in Israel concluded that mandatory ECG testing of athletes prior to sports participation did not reduce the number of deaths from sudden cardiac arrests.
"One of the major obstacles to developing a better screening process is that no one heart test is the best," says Mark Russell, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. "There are a number of different heart conditions that can cause sudden death in a young athlete.
"For some heart conditions, the ECG is the best test. For other heart problems, an echocardiogram is required," Russell says. "Unfortunately, both tests are usually normal in some individuals whose heart problem can only be diagnosed with an exercise stress test."
Furthermore, some conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thick
|Contact: Shantell M. Kirkendoll|
University of Michigan Health System