Why cardiovascular screening in young athletes can save lives: a critical review

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Abstract

Cardiovascular (CV) screening in young athletes remains challenging and a topic of considerable debate. Recent criticisms of ECG screening have perpetuated arguments that ECG screening is neither indicated nor effective by applying outdated incidence data and flawed methodology. In response, this article provides a critical review of the arguments in favour of ECG screening in athletes and the early detection of CV disorders at elevated risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Importantly, no study to date has demonstrated that screening by history and physical examination alone is effective in detecting athletes at risk or in preventing SCD. ECG screening using current athlete-specific interpretation standards provides a low false-positive rate and improves detection of potentially lethal CV conditions. Further, risk reduction in athletes identified with CV disorders can be effectively achieved through modern strategies for risk stratification and disease-specific management. By every definition of the purpose of CV screening, ECG-inclusive programmes will better meet the stated objective of early detection when proper ECG interpretation and adequate cardiology resources are available. Less debate on screening protocols and more emphasis on advancing physician skills and infrastructure in sports cardiology is needed to more effectively screen targeted athlete populations.

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