AHA Report on ECG Screening Drops the Ball

Screen Across America is a consortium of organizations that provide youth heart screenings in the United States. The group includes integrated health care systems, hospitals, universities, private medical practices, businesses and foundations. Based on our experiences in screening hundreds of thousands of children, and changing thousands of lives, we believe that youth heart screenings with electrocardiograms (ECG) are good medicine today.

Thousands of children die from sudden cardiac arrest every year. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that this number is 2,000, but we believe it to be higher. In October 2013, the NIH and CDC launched a landmark national registry to track the number of youth sudden deaths because Google and insurance records underestimate the true total.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the #1 medical cause of death of student athletes.

Approximately, one out of every 100 children that get screened discovers a heart condition. These conditions can cause our children to drop dead tomorrow, or cause them significant health problems in their adulthood years.

A significant number of students are diagnosed with hypertension and obesity at our screenings. Early identification of these risk factors and conditions save lives and money.

The cost to perform an ECG at a screening is approximately $25.

In addition, there is some very promising research.

ECG exams are more effective at catching undetected heart conditions. In 2013, 2,471 NCAA athletes received a standard pre-participation sports physical and ECG exam. Seven students were diagnosed with serious heart conditions, yet only of two of them had an abnormal history and/or physical exam (http://www.amssm.org/News-Release-Article.php?NewsID=67)

Responsible ECG screening criteria drastically reduces the number of false positives. Last year, a group of researchers screened 1,197 students and young adults using the Seattle Criteria. As a result, the false positive rate decreased from 17% to 4% (Br J Sports Med doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092420).

Adding an ECG exam to sports physicals does not create anxiety for students. In 2013, 1,506 high school athletes received sports physicals with an ECG exam. The students reported that the type of screening did not impact their anxiety level. In fact, most students indicated that the ECG was a good addition (J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014; 63(12_S): doi:10.1016/S0735-1097(14)61637-5)

In Italy, where all student athletes receive an ECG exam, the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest in students was reduced by 89%. (J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 52(24) doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2008.06.053)

We continue to be inspired by the earlier movements who have fought for safer and smarter medical practices. One day, we hope that opponents of youth heart screenings will engage in youth heart screenings to gather and use scientific-based data to form the basis of their objections. When lives are at stake, there is no place for opinion, prejudice or agendas.