Following a new research, heart experts at Johns Hopkins have recommended screening programs that include both popular diagnostic tests, not just one of them, in order to best detect early signs of life-threatening heart defects in young athletes.
Theodore Abraham, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart and Vascular Institute, said that sudden cardiac death due to heart rhythm disturbances is blamed for more than 3,000 deaths a year in young people, especially athletes who have inherited tendencies to develop overly enlarged and thickened hearts.
In some instances, top athletes have died from heart conditions while seemingly in peak physical form, something that can hide warning signs and allow many cases to go undiagnosed.
In the new study, Abraham and colleagues analyzed data from 134 top Maryland high school athletes that they screened at the 2008 track and field state championships.
The researchers were looking for life-threatening cardiac abnormalities, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathies.
Doctors took medical history, took weight and blood pressure measurements and listened for unusual heartbeats or murmurs.
They also conducted an echocardiogram - a cardiac ultrasound, or ECHO - to measure heart size and pumping function and to check for faulty heart valves; and an electrocardiogram, or EKG, to assess the heart's electrical rhythms.
None of the student athletes were found to have life-threatening heart defects, but abnormal findings were discovered in 36 athletes.
Twenty two of those abnormalities were found by EKG alone, nine by ECHO alone and five were picked up on both tests.
Those with abnormalities - which included 19 with high blood pressure, 29 with elevated blood pressure in need of future monitoring, and five with low blood pressure readings - were referred for follow-up to their doctors.
"If you are going to screen, it has to be comprehensive," Abraham said.
The study has been presented Nov. 15 at the American Heart Association's (AHA) annual Scientific Sessions in Orlando.