An athlete dropping dead on the field or court is one of the most traumatic events in sports. Heart issues are among the most common causes of deaths among athletes during games and practices. These deaths often occur in athletes who were previously healthy. The sudden cardiac death almost always shocks teammates, coaches and parents. In this interview, we discuss screening athletes to prevent sudden cardiac death.

Should we screen every athlete to prevent sudden cardiac death?

Should we screen every athlete in the United States with an electrocardiogram (EKG) to identify young athletes at risk?There are a number of experts who argue that we should.

Listening to heart to prevent sudden cardiac death

Risk of sudden cardiac death among athletes

A recent study in the journal Circulation found the rate of sudden cardiac deaths among NCAA Division I men’s college basketball players to be 1 in 3100. Studies looking at athletes overall have found lower rates – sometimes as low as 1 in 100,000 athletes. The conflicting data adds to the debate over the need for mandatory screening.

To get a better understanding of the risks of sudden cardiac death and the issues involved in screening athletes, I talked to Dr. Stefan Montgomery. He is a primary care sports medicine physician in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He and I both sit on the Medical Aspects of Sports committee for the South Carolina Medical Association. This topic has come up almost every year since I joined many years ago. Stefan always speaks intelligently and passionately about the subject.

This is an excerpt of our interview that I recently posted within Sports Medicine University. In this audio clip, Dr. Montgomery explains why sudden cardiac death and screening for it are such hotly debated topics. He shares his thoughts on the rates of sudden cardiac deaths as well as the risks. He also shares his take home message for parents worried about sudden cardiac deaths in sports.

Click below to listen.

To learn more about Dr. Montgomery, check out his practice website.

In the full interview I did with Dr. Montgomery, he and I discussed screening for sudden cardiac death in much more detail. How effectively do EKGs and echocardiograms identify young athletes at risk for sudden cardiac death? How likely are athletes felt to be at risk by EKG when they actually have normal hearts (false positive tests)? What would be the cost and feasibility of mandatory national screening? Can private companies effectively perform screenings for schools and leagues?

Dr. Montgomery and I also discuss advice for students looking to enter sports medicine, including how to get involved, working as part of a team of healthcare professionals, which people are not cut out for sports medicine and more.

Also read:
Sports medicine stats: Sudden cardiac deaths among young athletes
Football player’s sudden cardiac arrest shows the need for emergency action plans