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Test Finds Rare Heart Defect in Some Young Athletes
Date:1/9/2008

Finding may fuel debate about screening for cardiovascular problems

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Italian researchers say they've identified an abnormal heartbeat pattern in young athletes that makes some of them vulnerable to severe heart disease later in life.

The report comes amid intense debate in the United States about screening athletes for potential cardiac problems, said Dr. Mark S. Link, director of the Tufts-New England Medical Center for the Evaluation of Athletes.

"In Italy and other European countries, screening is done," Link said. "In the U.S., it generally isn't. There is a very, very vigorous debate about screening in this country."

The new Italian report isn't likely to resolve that debate, because the study found that the percentage of young athletes who went on to develop heart problems was small, said study lead author Dr. Antonio Pelliccia, scientific director of the Institute of Sports Medicine and Science in Rome. The findings are published in the Jan. 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study authors reviewed a database of 12,550 trained athletes and found that 81 of them had electrocardiograms (EKGs) with an abnormal pattern called "diffusely distributed and deeply inverted T waves," but no obvious heart disease. Five of the athletes eventually developed severe heart disease before 50 years of age, including one who died suddenly at age 24.

The abnormal pattern doesn't necessarily mean an end to athletic activity, Pelliccia said. "We don't say, you have a cardiomyopathy," he said, using the formal term for severe heart disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and doesn't work properly. "We say, you have something that may be associated with subsequent development of a cardiomyopathy. Also, numerous persons with the abnormality do not develop signs and symptoms of cardiomyopathy. That is why we suggest clinical prudence and caut
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