An analysis of the available evidence suggests that screening for sudden cardiac death may not save lives, and may do more harm than good.

Therefore, suggests a study published in The BMJ, young athletes shouldn’t be screened for sudden cardiac death at all.

The study’s authors, from the Belgian Health Care Knowledge Center, performed the literature review on the harms and benefits of such screening in amateur athletes aged 18 to 34 years, according to a media release from BMJ.

The American Heart Association recommends that, prior to sports participation, athletes should undergo a physical examination and that physicians should take note of their personal and family history. However, very few people at risk of sudden cardiac death are detected that way, according to the release.

Per the review, only four out of 115 young athletes who died suddenly had a standard pre-participation evaluation, and the condition that led to death was identified in only one athlete.

The European Society of Cardiology also recommends that athletes undergo an electrocardiogram. However, the authors note that overall, 25% of people with a condition that may lead to a sudden cardiac death would not be identified.

At the same time, per the release, several false positives are associated with screening programs, which may lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, and unnecessary harms including anxiety and psychological trauma. Also, athletes may be subjected to temporary or lifelong restrictions and exclusion from sport, and impediments to insurability or employment opportunities.

The authors also note that doctors don’t agree on standard treatments for the conditions identified.

“As long as those at high risk of sudden death cannot be reliably identified and appropriately managed, young athletes should not be submitted to pre-participation screening,” they conclude, according to the release.

[Source(s): BMJ, Science Daily]