The debate over heart screening for athletes

    The death of a standout Philadelphia high school basketball player has renewed the debate about how to detect heart trouble in competitive athletes.

    The death of a standout Philadelphia high school basketball player has renewed the debate about how to detect heart trouble in competitive athletes.

    It’s not clear yet, what killed Prep Charter High School student Akhir Frazier, but his mother reportedly said he suffered from a thickening of the heart.

    John Murphy is a pediatric cardiologist at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. He says the heart trouble that leads to sudden death in athletes often runs in families.

    Murphy: If any doctor examining a young person — who’s going to be playing competitive athletics — comes up with a history of other family members who have had syncopal, or fainting episodes with exercise, or worse, sudden death, they should be screened in a rather formal way.

    Some sports medicine experts have argued that all competitive athletes should receive an electrocardiogram to measure electrical activity in the heart and rule out problems. Others say mandatory screening would be impractical and costly.

    Experts worry that requiring an ECG for all student athletes would lead to many false positives. Critics say the U.S. system doesn’t have enough pediatric specialists to read the tests or interpret the results.

    The American Heart Association recommends that all student athletes get a yearly medical exam and talk to their doctor about any family history of heart problems.

    Dr. Barry Maron, with the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, leads a national registry that tracks sudden deaths in athletes.

    Maron: Limiting a national, mandatory program to competitive athletes is discriminatory. There’s no other word for it. These genetic cardiovascular diseases that are at question do not cause death limited to athletes, they occur in non-athletes more commonly in fact.

    Maron said Italy is the only country that includes a regular ECG screening testing in its required exam for athletes.

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