Sports Screening

Some background

Between two and three young Australians under 35 die every week from sudden cardiac death. It is an undiagnosed heart condition that causes death in an otherwise seemingly healthy person. A recent (2016) study of 490 cases of SCD - Sudden Cardiac Death - of people under 35 in Australia and New Zealand showed that 24% of these cases were caused by coronary artery disease and 16% by inherited cardiomyopathies.

In the 40% of cases where no cause was identified, the researchers were able to show that in 27% of these cases there was a genetic (ie inherited) disposition to a heart problem.

What is sports screening?

Sports associations around the world are now recommending that athletes and sportspeople under 35 undergo screening before participation in sports to minimise the possibility of SCD. In fact some associations further recommend that any young person planning on participating in sports have screening from the age of 13.

Sports screening includes a review of personal history and family history, a physical examination, and in some cases an ECG (particularly in sportspeople over 35 years old).

What happens if a possible abnormality is picked up during the sports screening?

Investigation depends on what the abnormality is and may included...

  • Echocardiography
  • Stress testing
  • Ambulatory ECG monitoring (Holter monitor)
  • Where an inherited/congenital condition is detected (eg hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) - all first degree relatives should also be screened

Is it worth undergoing sports screening even if it is not required by the sports association?

Sports screening is recommended where any of the following occur during sports or exercise...

  • Breathlessness
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness

In addition, it is also recommended to undertake sports screening when returning to sport after a cardiac issue has previously arisen.