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Study: Screening of Young Athletes Can Reduce Risk of Sudden Death


One of the leading causes of death among young athletes on the playing field or court is a heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. But the results of a 25-year study in Italy shows there is an effective way to screen young athletes for this type of sudden death.

In 1993 sports fans were shocked when star player Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics basketball team collapsed on the court and later died of what doctors believe was sudden cardiac death.

Young athletes like Lewis and others are supposed to be in top physical condition. But this unexpected death can be the result of a hidden disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a muscle thickening in the heart's lower left chamber.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is unusual. One in every 500 people is estimated to have it. Yet the chances of catching this hidden condition early have been enhanced by results of a 25-year study in Italy. There all potential athletes like this teenager must undergo a thorough medical exam before they're allowed to play sports. Doctors look for a family history of heart disease and use an electrocardiogram to check for cardiovascular abnormalities.

The Center for Sports Medicine in Padua, Italy has participated in a study to prevent sudden death in athletes. Dr. Gaetano Thiene is with the Center says the sport activity is a factor. "The major effort indeed is to identify these people and then disqualify from sport activity. Don't forget that the sport activity and effort is a trigger for sudden death in people affected."

More than 40,000 young Italian athletes...ranging in age from 12 to 35...have been tested. Researchers believe the screening has helped reduce the incidence of sudden death among these young men and women by almost 90 percent.

Dr. Thiene agrees. "This was absolutely amazing because this was proving that the pre-participation screening is a life-saving tool."

In Italy, the price of each screening is about$40 per person. Some experts say they're afraid the high cost might eliminate many children before they even get the chance to try out.

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