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Too Few Doctors Screen Young Athletes for Hidden Heart Trouble
Date:11/14/2011

By Denise Mann
HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Tragic stories appear in the media about seemingly healthy young athletes dying on the playing field due to an undetected heart problem.

In response, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued guidelines aimed at helping doctors and coaches detect these problems early on and prevent such senseless deaths.

But new research suggests that only a small percentage of physicians are heeding the guidelines.

In the study, presented Sunday at the AHA's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., less than half of physicians and only 6 percent of high school athletic directors in Washington state were aware of the life-saving guidelines -- potentially leaving many young athletes at risk.

"There is a striking lack of compliance with these guidelines," said study lead author Dr. Nicolas Madsen, a pediatric cardiology fellow at Seattle Children's Hospital and the University of Washington School of Medicine.

There are currently more than 7 million high school athletes in the United States, and one out of every 30,000 to 50,000 of them will die each year from sudden cardiac death, according to the AHA. One main cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes thickened. There are other causes as well, including potentially fatal heart rhythm abnormalities.

The AHA's screening guidelines call for eight specific medical-history questions and four key elements in a physical exam, all designed to help doctors understand whether an athlete is at risk. Specifically, doctors need to ask athletes about chest pain during exercise, unexplained fainting and their family history of heart disease or early death before clearing them to play.

The study's survey canvassed more than 1,100 pediatricians and family doctors, plus 317 high school athletic directors, all from Washi
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