Should children and teenagers receive an electrocardiogram (EKG) before being allowed to participate in organized, competitive sports? An EKG captures the heart’s electric activity in a graphical format. The level of cardiac screening required before participating in sports is currently a topic of debate in the news and medical community. The question surrounding the how much cardiac screening young athletes should receive has gained visibility in recent weeks after the death of several student athletes from cardiac related events in early March, 2011.
Despite the fact that most student athletes are in top physical condition, only one out of 10 students who suffer sudden cardiac arrest survive. In most instances, the underlying heart condition is undiagnosed and sudden cardiac arrest is the first sign that a heart problem exists.
In 2007, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued guidelines for cardiac evaluation for students participating in sports. These guidelines include a physical exam and completion of a family history questionnaire. The questionnaire includes questions such as whether or not there is a history of familial heart disease under the age of 50, if they’ve ever fainted, experienced fatigue, or had chest pain during exercise. Follow-up evaluations are recommended depending on the results of the exam and information gathered from the questionnaire. The AHA guidelines do not recommend EKG screening.
Advocates of EKG screening indicated that many of the types of conditions which may lead to sudden cardiac arrest--such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy--in children and teens are not detected by this type of screening. According to Dr. Kimberly G. Harmon, University of Washington Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, 90 percent of the heart conditions that lead to sudden cardiac arrest in children and teenagers, and possible death, can be discovered by an EKG. Harmon believes that the use of an EKG will save lives and EKG’s should be a requirement for all students before participating in athletics.