NCAA-Funded Study Supports Screening NCAA Athletes for Sudden Cardiac Death Risk

San Diego, CA — A new NCAA funded research study supports the addition of electrocardiogram (ECG) screening to the standardized pre-participation exams for athletes to better identify cardiac abnormalities that lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD) – the leading cause of death in athletes during sport.

Jonathan Drezner, MD, President of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), along with a team of researchers from the University of Washington, presented their results from a recent study that was commissioned by the NCAA, entitled “Electrocardiographic Screening in NCAA Athletes: A Multicenter Feasibility Trial in Division I Programs” last Friday at the annual meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine in San Diego, Calif.

Their prospective, multicenter trial screened 2,471 male and female athletes from 14 NCAA Division I universities. In order to be eligible for the trial, athletes could not have received an ECG screening in the past. A total of seven (0.28%) athletes were diagnosed with serious cardiac disorders, all of which had abnormal ECGs and only two of which had an abnormal history or physical exam.  Notably, 4 athletes were upperclassmen who underwent prior screening by history and physical exam alone but were not identified as having a disorder at risk for SCD.

Currently, ECG screening is not a required component of physical exams for NCAA athletes; however, according to NCAA estimates, nearly a dozen college student-athletes in the US suffer sudden cardiac arrest each year.  

Results support that ECG screening in NCAA athletes is feasible, has a low false-positive rate, and provides superior accuracy compared to a standardized history and physical exam to detect athletes with potentially dangerous cardiovascular conditions.  This study also applied new international consensus standards for ECG interpretation – an important component that minimized false-positive results.
Dr. Drezner is a Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington, and Associate Director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship. Additionally he serves as team physician for the University of Washington and the Seattle Seahawks.

Co-authors of the research are David Owens, MD, Jordan Prutkin, MD, MHS, Jack Salerno, MD, Hank Pelto, MD, Shelley Prosise, David Hadley, PhD, Victor Froelicher, MD, Doug Aukerman, MD, Robert Baker, MD, Casey Batten, MD, Jaclyn Brown, MD, Jeff Bytomski, DO, Jay Clugston, MD, Ron Courson, ATC, John DiFiori, MD, Andrew Gregory, MD, Gene Hannah, MD, Kimberly Harmon, MD, Katie Miller, MD, John O’Kane, MD, Clifton Page, MD, Stephen Paul, MD, Sourav Poddar, MD, Ashwin Rao, MD, Fred Reifsteck, MD, and Greg Skaggs, MD.

About the AMSSM Annual Meeting: The conference features lectures and research addressing the most challenging topics in sports medicine today including prevention of sudden cardiac death, concussion, biologic therapies and other issues facing the field of sports medicine. More than 1,400 sports medicine physicians from across the United States and 10 countries around the world are attending the meeting.

About the AMSSM: The 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 comprises more than 2,300 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.


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