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Dual Heart Tests Best for Young Athletes

When Screening for Heart Defects, 2 Tests Better Than 1

Dual Heart Tests Pick Up More Problems continued...

"If we had only done the ECHO or the EKG, a significant number of abnormalities would have been missed," Abraham says.

"If you are going to screen, it has to be comprehensive. An EKG does show you a lot," he says, "but it doesn't tell you the whole story. The advantage of a comprehensive screening is that it is holistic, rather than being pinpoint."

Aurelio Pinheiro, MD, a postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins who also worked on the study, wasn't surprised that none of the athletes had a life-threatening heart abnormality as so few patients were screened.

"But with larger numbers, life-threatening conditions would be missed," Abraham says.

Athletes with abnormalities -- which included 19 with high blood pressure, 29 with slightly elevated blood pressure, and five with low blood pressure readings -- were referred to their doctors for follow-up.

In some nations, including Italy, federal law mandates screening of young athletes, he says. "That's probably not going to happen here, but we do need better programs," he says.

In the meantime, Abraham urges any athlete with abnormal symptoms, no matter how trivial they seem, to consult their coach or doctor.

"Let someone know how you are feeling, especially if you have had chest pains, shortness of breath, or have fainted." he says. "This could save your life."

Michael Sayre, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine at Ohio State University in Columbus, agrees that screening of athletes is important.

But he tells WebMD that he also worries that too much testing could have negative consequences.

"One in four athletes in the study had abnormal test results, but none had significant problems. There's a risk the tests could identify people who don't have problems. They may worry unnecessarily or choose not to participate in sports when they shouldn't," he says.

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