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Preventative Methods of Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletes


Sports Cardiology Experts Debate Preventative Methods of Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletes

By Kyle Goerl, MD

Debate surrounding several elements of sports cardiology has become quite polarized. In an effort to answer questions in the field, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) held a Sports Cardiology Think Tank in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18, 2012. The goal of the summit was to open dialogue between leading sports medicine organizations, cardiologists, sporting bodies and advocacy groups in order to prevent sudden cardiac death during exercise.

Irfan M. Asif, MD, was selected as the representative for the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) to participate in the Think Tank proceedings. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor and the Program Director for the Sports Medicine Fellowship at The University of Tennessee.

Patient encounters often drive our interests. For Dr. Asif, the experience as a medical student of witnessing a sudden cardiac death (SCD) in a young, healthy marathoner was the trigger to investigate the field of sports cardiology. Since then, Dr. Asif has dedicated his efforts to finding ways to prevent SCD through primary and secondary prevention strategies.

During the ACC Sports Cardiology Think Tank, Dr. Asif educated others about AMSSM-led initiatives in sports cardiology by way of: 

  • Partnering with international organizations to develop an online ECG interpretation training module that is freely available for those who read ECGs in athletes;
  • Working with other organizations such as the NCAA, Citizen CPR Foundation and the National Athletic Trainer’s Association to promote AED programs as a means for secondary prevention for SCD in athletes;
  • Joining with five national organizations in developing the most recent Pre-Participation Physical Evaluation (PPE) monograph (4th edition); and
  • Fostering AMSSM member research related to the prevention of SCD in athletes.

There is little debate between key stakeholders regarding the need for AED programs as a means for the secondary prevention of SCD. There is debate, however, concerning the routine inclusion of an ECG to the standard history and physical-based PPE. Dr. Asif makes the point that ECGs can certainly enhance the ability to detect cardiac disease but should only be performed by clinicians who are trained in athlete-specific ECG interpretation standards and with readily available resources for secondary evaluations.

When asked about the future of sports cardiology, Dr. Asif believes “AMSSM has a great opportunity to be a leader in research development and implementation of best practices in sports cardiology.” His vision involves further research and collaborative engagements between AMSSM and other specialties with the goal of improving future outcomes for athletes at risk for SCD.

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) is a multi-disciplinary organization of sports medicine physicians whose members are dedicated to education, research, advocacy and the care of athletes of all ages. Founded in 1991, the AMSSM is now comprised of more than 2,200 sports medicine physicians whose goal is to provide a link between the rapidly expanding core of knowledge related to sports medicine and its application to patients in a clinical setting. Visit www.amssm.org to learn more.


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