Between 2006 and 2010, Marek's research team gave ECGs to 50,665 teens, 14 to 18 years old, including athletes and non-athletes. The screening was done in 32 schools in suburban Chicago during the regular school day.
Screening identified 1,096 teens with abnormal ECGs, indicating a heart irregularity that could result in sudden cardiac death. Of those teens, 150 were found to have left ventricular hypertrophy, which can lead to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most common cause of sudden cardiac death. Another 145 had a condition called prolonged QTc, which could indicate long QT syndrome, also linked to sudden cardiac death.
The findings were to be presented Thursday in San Francisco at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual scientific sessions. Experts note that research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary because it has not been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny given to research published in medical journals.
A similar study done in Italy over a 26-year period found that ECG screening cut the number of cardiac deaths by 89 percent, Marek said.
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, the associate chief of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, medical school said that "sudden cardiac death in the young can have devastating impact on families, care providers and the community."
Though some of the abnormalities that cause these deaths can be detected by screening ECGs, Fonarow said, "the routine use of screening ECGs in the young is controversial."
"Further studies of ECG screening are needed to evaluate the resource requirements, reliability, reproducibility, effectiveness of preventing sudden cardiac arrest and potential harmful effects of screening," he said.
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