The Screening Debate

This article contains arguments for and against heart screenings for athletes.  For once, I would like for the adversaries to substantiate their costly claims.  It is easy to throw out high dollar amounts. 

Two studies published yesterday are expected to reignite an emotionally charged debate about whether young athletes should be screened with a heart test to reduce the small risk of sudden death from an undiagnosed heart problem.


In the first, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University added an electrocardiogram, known as an ECG, to a routine physical for students. This strategy doubled the number of students with heart disease who were detected, compared with those who did not receive an ECG with their physical.

The vast majority of athletes who die suddenly are felled by an abnormal heart rhythm, which can often be detected with an ECG, a test of the heart’s electrical activity. However, the Harvard study also found a large number of “false positives’’ – tests indicating a problem when there is none – that would subject athletes to additional costly testing to rule out a heart ailment. Still, based on the findings, Harvard is routinely giving ECGs to all its athletic recruits.

In the second study, scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine concluded that adding an ECG to the traditional sports physical would tack on roughly $89 per athlete, a cost that is considered feasible compared with other routine medical interventions. Both studies were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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