Why heart screening in teen soccer players might not be enough to prevent death

A study that examined the efficacy of routine cardiovascular screening in teen soccer players in the U.K. suggests a standard one-time test isn’t enough to ensure heart health in young athletes, Reuters reported early this month.

Of 11,000 adolescent soccer players included in the study, one in 266 were identified as having a heart problem that might cause sudden death, lead author Aneil Malhotra, PhD, of the University of London, told Reuters. One in 1,396 died suddenly from some form of heart disease, meaning six in eight of those players passed their routine heart screening exams, including an electrocardiogram and ultrasound.

Malhotra said despite these results, he and his colleagues don’t think they mean screening isn’t worth the expense, though it can rack up quite a bill. The cost of identifying any child with heart disease is more than $16,000 per case.

“Cynics would say perhaps screening is not effective because six of eight deaths were missed,” he said, but noted the heart problems causing those deaths might not have been identifiable at the time of screening.

He agreed the numbers warrant some changes. The English Football Association, which helped fund the study, subsequently changed their regulations to require routine testing at age 16 with follow-up ECGs at 18, 20 and 25 years old.

“These are elite-level soccer players,” Malhotra said. “We think this is a minimum estimate of cardiac death. This is the tip of the iceberg.”

Malhotra et al.’s research was published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Read Reuters’ full story below: