Study: Screening Program Reduces Sudden Cardiac Deaths

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In the Italian study, they say that the average cost of an ECG about $40.

Those that have abnormal findings then have to undergo further testing to prove or disprove whether the person really has a problem.

The financial costs quickly add up when compared to the very few deaths the program would prevent in the United States, some experts say.

"There are relatively few sudden deaths in athletes in total," said Douglas Zipes, director emeritus of the division of cardiology and the Krannert Institute of Cardiology at the Indiana School of Medicine. "But when they happen, they are riveting in the public consciousness and are particularly tragic."

There is also concern about young athletes that will not be able to participate because of false findings.

"How many athletes were prevented from competitive athletics by the screening?" Zipes said. "Who didn't need to be excluded and thus had an unnecessary lifestyle change?"

This is a very important consideration in a country faced with an obesity epidemic, and physical activity should be encouraged as much as possible.

This indicates a need for tests that confirm whether the person really has a problem. The Italian data showed that 3,914 people were referred for further studies secondary to suspicious findings.

Of these, 879 were eventually restricted from participation, resulting in the 89 percent reduction in yearly SCDs.

"Even with the standard screening done properly, it's impossible to prevent all sudden deaths on the athletic field," Schulman said.

With these concerns in mind, experts are still supportive of this type of system in the United States.

"We should use this evidence to push such a program in the U.S.," said Alan Kadish, senior associate chief of the cardiology division at Northwestern University.

Christine Lawless is an associate professor of internal medicine at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She is in the process of studying such a program.

"We offer both ECG and echocardiographic screening to all our athletes as part of a research project whose main objective is to correlate the ECG findings with underlying cardiac structure and with ethnic background of the athlete," Lawless said.

Several other universities and school systems throughout the country are testing similar systems. The success of these programs will be used to determine whether a nationwide program is possible.

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