FILED IN: Health

Teenage athletes with heart problems may be slipping through screenings

Thorough screening needed to find teenage athletes with heart problems. Via google Images.

A new study shows that doctors are skipping parts of screening exams, which may be allowing teen athletes with cardiac risks to fall through the cracks.

A report presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association stated that than 6 percent of doctors followed the screening guidelines suggested by the group when conduction pre-season physicals for high school sports. These guidelines could be life-saving, in some cases.

Doctors usually listen to the hearts of teenage athletes’ and record their blood pressures, but often they fail to ask the important questions designed to determine the risk of heart disease. 67 Percent of  doctors surveyed said that they didn’t always ask teens about family history of heart problems, for example. Just over half of the doctors surveyed were even aware that the guidelines from the AHA even existed.

Dr. Nicolas Madsen, a cardiology fellow at Seattle Children’s Hospital of the University of Washington, says that over 7 million teens play high school sports. Studies show that 175 to 233 deaths occur each year among high school athletes.

Madsen said that there’s been a recent push to add more tests, like electrocardiograms, to the basic student-athlete physical, adding that we can’t know if the additional tests are necessary until the current guidelines are followed to the letter by all physicians.

The new study consisted of Madsen and his fellow researchers sending out surveys to every pediatrician and family practice doctor in Washington State. They received a good response–surveys were returned by 72 percent of pediatricians and 56 percent of family practitioners.

The results were disheartening:

  •  28 percent of doctors surveyed failed to always ask if a teen experienced chest pain during exercise.
  •  22 percent of doctors surveyed failed to always ask if the teen ever fainted without a known cause or explanation.
  • 26 percent of doctors surveyed failed to always ask about early deaths in their family history. 
  • 67 percent failed to always ask about heart disease in their family history.

Dr. Gaurav Arora, associate director of electrophysiology at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, was surprised to see te number of physicians in the new study who said they didn’t ask every teen athlete about fainting or chest pain. He said, “Those are red flags in young athletes.” 

Arora suspects that the lack of a stadardized for physicians to use on teenage athletes’ pre-season physicals is contributing to the problem.  He also felt that better education is needed for providers who do the screening.