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Sudden Cardiac Death Syndrome and Athletes

The sudden death of an athlete inevitably stirs public concern as front page headlines and news stories question what more could have been done to identify the risk. Parents may wonder--if this could happen to a young star athlete, could it also strike their child, who participates in recreational athletics? Sudden Cardiac Death Syndrome (SCDS) is a congenital cardiovascular disease that is characterized by malformation of the heart. And although a rare condition among young athletes, it does not show itself until it is too late.

The Numbers

Screening for SCDS is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Even if the odds are low, detecting just one case can save a life! Studies have shown SCDS is up to nine times more common in males than females. It occurs in 1-3 of every 100,000 athletes. Among high school boys, the numbers jump to 7.47 boys of every 100,000.

Debate: Screening vs. No Screening

Opinions vary on whether SCDS testing should be conducted on athletes. The American Heart Association believes that initially, a good physical examination and medical history is sufficient. The International Olympic Committee and the European College of Cardiologists feel that an EKG is a vital part of the preliminary work up. Every organization has a different opinion, and sadly some of these discussions are based on cost.
But what is the real cost?
Is it worth it to test thousands of athletes and only find a few cases? ABSOLUTELY!

Doing What Is Right for the Athlete

The Center for Sports Medicine has developed a multi-faceted approach to cardiac screening. First, an extensive medical history is taken. A physician will then perform a cardiac evaluation and physical examination. Blood pressure will be checked and an EKG performed. Based on the results, the athlete will be informed whether they have a low probability for SCDS, or if further follow up will be necessary. If an echocardiogram or other testing is necessary, your athlete will be referred to follow up with his/her primary care physician. THERE WILL BE NO COST TO THE ATHLETE FOR THIS SCREENING.

How YOU Can Arrange a Screening for SCDS

A school or school district may wish to arrange a SCDS screening event. A screening event can be customized to accommodate any number of athletes. Interested coaches or athletic directors should call the Center for Sports Medicine at 734-261-3778 for more information.