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ECG Screening Can Really Reduce Sudden Cardiac Deaths!

It was reported that patients with chest pain may end up with deadly heart attack because the ECG (electrocardiogram) could not supply diagnostic result for the doctor in time to save the patients.

Nonetheless, a screening program using 12-lead ECG for young athletes in Italy has reduced the sudden cardiac deaths by almost 90 percent, according to a report from Heartwise. The study was conducted by researchers from the University Of Padua Medical School and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Launched in 1983, a nationwide screening program using 12-lead ECG was employed to track the athletes in Veneto region of the country. The researchers analyzed the changes in incidence rates and causes of sudden cardiovascular death among 42,386 young athletes (aged 12 to 35 years) undergoing pre-participation screening between 1979 and 2004.

During the study period, the annual incidence rate of sudden cardiovascular death in athletes dropped by 89 percent, from 3.6 per 100,000 person-years in 1979 to 1980 to 0.4 per 100,000 person-years in 2003 to 2004. In comparison, the incidence of sudden death among the unscreened non-athletic population did not change significantly during the same period of time.

The beneficial data collected from the study is very encouraging, and the chief researcher, felt that the screening strategies should be picked up by other countries for the prevention of sudden death in athletes.

This suggestion was not widely agreeable by other doctors or experts in other countries to establish the importance of routine ECG in the screening process. Firstly, this is the first assessment of the long-term impact of a screening program on mortality from sudden cardiovascular death. Secondly, most of the reduced death rate was due to fewer cases of sudden death from cardiomyopathy.

Cardiomyopathy is a serious heart disease in which thickening of the heartís walls can lead to abnormal heart rhythm. This can cause sudden and unexpected death in athletes. It can be difficult to detect and many athletes train for years before the problem arises.

The problem can, however, be picked up by an ECG, according to the researchers of the study. Those with cardiomyopathy are restricted from competitive sports and receive regular clinical follow-up, beta-block therapy and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). ICD is a device that can monitor and correct abnormal heart rhythms It is, however, not affordable by everyone with its cost of around US$35,000 a piece.

The researchers hope that the study can help in the design of more focused screening strategies and want to refine the management of young competitive athletes with cardiovascular disease.



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