You've probably heard the tragic story: a young and seemingly healthy student athlete suddenly drops dead on the playing field. Every year, close to 100 young lives are lost in this way, and cardiac arrest is usually to blame.

The Need for Screening Young Athletes

When you learn about such an untimely death, it probably strikes fear into your own heart and makes you wonder if your child is safe. But what if he could undergo a simple screening test to identify any problems in advance and help prevent him from meeting a similar fate?

An electrocardiogram (also called an EKG or ECG) offers a simple method to do just this, but until recently most public health advocates believed the costs involved outweighed the benefits. 

Is Screening Young Athletes Feasible?

Now, a study included in The Annals of Internal Medicine in March of 2010 reveals that performing EKGs on student athletes may indeed be cost-effective. This research builds on the results of a previous study that appeared in a 2006 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The earlier study used data from the Italian Ministry of Health, which has required all competitive athletes in Italy to undergo a screening test for heart conditions. The findings reveal that using an EKG has resulted in an 89 percent reduction in the number of cardiac deaths among this population.

The Cost of Screening Young Athletes

To better understand how these screenings would also benefit young athletes in the United States, American researchers did some calculations using the Italian findings. They determined that by making EKGs a mandatory requirement to play sports, every year it could save the lives of more than 2 athletes out of every 1,000. The cost for performing this test would be less than $100 a person, which is a small price to pay for keeping kids safe in this way.

But the researchers caution that while it certainly isn't expensive, the money to cover the cost isn't readily available either. Further, the logistics in performing such widespread EKG tests would be difficult.  Therefore, more research is needed to come up with suggestions for how to implement and finance such a plan.

Support Screening Young Athletes in Your Community

If you're concerned about your own child's risk for cardiac problems, you don't have to sit back and worry without doing anything. Even if there aren't any national requirements to perform an EKG for young athletes at this point, you can become a vocal supporter of the need for such an effort and can call on local schools, colleges and recreation departments to use this tool preventatively. In addition, consider talking to your pediatrician about the feasibility of having your child's heart screened to rule out any potential problems.

Finally, you can also take this opportunity to teach your child the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices to help reduce his risk of cardiovascular disease. Staying active, eating well and maintaining a reasonable weight can all be essential steps to helping him have a healthy heart, both today and also in the future.


American Academy of Pediatrics

The Annals of Internal Medicine

The Cleveland Clinic